June 03, 2013

A Night “Out of Darkness”

I had an emotional and enriching experience this Saturday. I spent time volunteering at the American Foundation for Prevention of Suicide’s (AFSP) Out of Darkness Walk.

Every year AFSP has a sponsor walk. Last year it was in San Francisco and the year before in New York. This year it was here in Washington, DC. The walk starts in the evening and all the walkers, who have raised money for AFSP, walk 16.5 miles until they finish at dawn. It is a symbolic act of love to help others make it out of the darkness of depression or loss.

 Of course I signed up to volunteer. Since Madre was here helping with the house she decided to come along too. We also talked my uncle Ben into coming.

We had the Midnight to 0600 shift. Madre and I decided to head in for the opening ceremony. As we walked up we saw several thousand people milling around waiting to start the walk. There were groups and families wearing matching shirts all memorializing their family members who have died by suicide. We spent the first hour just watching people and feeling the vibe of love.

I had to stop and take deep breaths and blink rapidly to not cry completely as I took it all in. There are truly some wonderful people in the world. They are doing everything they can to honor their family members who have passed on. We cannot heal their heartaches and wounds now they are gone, but we can all join together to help save someone else.

They had ‘Honor Beads’ for us all to wear. Each color represented a different relationship of someone who died by suicide. Just reading the sign was almost too much for me. I wore  two orange necklaces for Trevor and Moana as a siblings, I wore purple for Jex, a cousin, and I wore blue to support the cause. Madre wore purple, white and blue.

We then stopped and made lanterns—five of them—for each of the people in our lives that have died by suicide in the last three years. Again, another emotional experience.

The opening ceremony was full of inspirational speakers and stories. People who had lost spouses, parents, friends, soldiers, and other loved ones. I finally stopped holding back the tears and gave into the emotions. I had the missing loved ones emotion combined with the knowledge that all the people standing in that little square with us has lost people in their lives too.

Madre and I stood, dressed in our green volunteer shirts, and cheered the walkers as they started the walk. I smiled and cried the entire time. We could see all their faces as they passed. Some of them were smiling  others were full of tears. I watched each of them and saw all the beads they carried around their necks.

We saw them on their way. I started honking and they, of course, started yelling!
We stood there with the other volunteers—including one mother who brought her children to help too—and clapped for nearly 45 minutes. My eyes stung, my arms ached, and palms were sore. But I didn’t dare stop clapping because I wanted to show all of them that I appreciate them and what they were doing. 

As we walked out we saw the booth labeled "Incentives" and next to all the water bottles and other memorabilia was a little girl holding a sign that said, "Hugs Here!" How awesome. If a group of people needed extra hugs it was all of us. 

We went home for a few hours then made our way back for our volunteer time. It was dark when we arrived and the volunteers were setting out the lanterns. Over two thousand lanterns lined the court yard, each of them with a story on it. We walked through silently, almost reverently, as we searched for our five lanterns.

The walkers started coming in and I found myself back with the other volunteers cheering! It was contagious. We went to set up for breakfast and Ben met us there. We were all decked out in our ‘lunch lady’ outfits and had quite a fun time laughing with the other volunteers.

There we were ready to serve breakfast, but there were no eaters. For some reason the breakfast was in a different setting about half a block away. I decided to go round people up and let them know where breakfast was. As I told them, they were all so tired even thinking about walking another half a block was unbearable. Eventually they came, though.

I stood on the corner for several hours cheering as people came into the finish line. After they crossed I cheered for them to go  eat breakfast. So here I was, dressed like a lunch lady screaming my head off at 0300 at downtown DC! What a blast!

Soon I had several people cheering on the corner with me and four different times I had people ask if they could take my picture! Not to mention all of the people that were filming us cheer as they finished the race. HAHAHA…So I am sure that I was all over Facebook wearing my hot hairnet and plastic apron! Woohoo…

Me and the group of people that yelled until the end!

I yelled so loud my voice was hoarse and again my palms hurt—again.

It was a fun day, I mean, night.

The night ended with several walkers and raised millions of dollars to help people who may not be able to help themselves.

Here is a news clip video about it:

1 comment:

  1. SO glad that you made the connection with this great organization, Dustin. And, so proud of you for volunteering in the hope that others may live.