I walked into a disorganized situation because of the weather. It had been raining for hours and it wasn’t about to stop. In nice weather, tents are set up on a big plaza at City Hall. So most of the tables, signs, etc. had been crammed into City Hall.
The route of the walk, which is usually around 17 miles, had been shortened due to weather-related safety concerns. So when I arrived, walkers were starting to cross the finish line. I didn’t have a set job because of the turn of events, so I stood at the finish line to cheer on the walkers for a while.
The walkers were soaked. Some were excited and grateful as they approached the finish line. Others were exhausted and limping. I witnessed a marriage proposal, which was sweet.
My next task was to help a woman find her luminaria. Luminaria are paper bags that walkers can decorate with messages for and photos of the loved ones they’ve lost to suicide. Once decorated, battery-operated tea lights are put inside and they are displayed by the finish line. Some people choose to put out their luminaria before the walk, and some bring them on the walk and put them out afterward.
Because of the rain, luminaria were placed in a number of random spots. Outside, inside, 20 there, 50 there. The woman I was helping showed me a photo of her luminaria. On it she had written some inspirational thoughts in black Sharpie. I registered the second one, “Somebody Loves You.”
She took the inside; I took the outside. There were approximately 1,800 bags, so I wasn’t hopeful. Like the last time I volunteered, I was surprised by the range of people who had lost their fight against suicide. Parents, children, spouses, friends. One person had lost his fight in 1981 and another had lost his fight a mere six weeks earlier.
I didn’t find the woman’s luminaria. I somehow was able to find her again inside and offered an apology. I felt an urge to look around inside myself. Within five minutes, I found her luminaria. Holding it to my chest, I practically ran to where I had left her, and thankfully she was still there. We exchanged some happy words and a hug.
By about 4:00 am, the last walker had finished. Everyone who was staying for breakfast and the closing ceremony was sprawled across rooms and hallways on the first floor of City Hall. I spent the next hour or two on garbage duty, picking up discarded breakfast items. Exhaustion, sorrow, and relief hung like a cloud over everyone.
At the closing ceremony, a young man who had attempted suicide spoke, and a musician who had lost her sibling sang a song. The AFSP CEO announced that the walkers had raised more than $3 million in that one evening.
I left exhausted but happy that I had helped AFSP in a small way. Please read these statistics and never be afraid to ask loved ones if they feel like hurting themselves. Let’s bring mental health issues into the light.