Monday, September 25, 2006

Out of the Darkness

In August, I participated in the Out of the Darkness Overnight, a 20 mile walk from dusk until dawn. It was to raise money for suicide awareness, prevention, and research. We had to raise $1000 just to participate, plus train for that kind of exertion.

It was worth every minute.

We started out at Soldier Field, in the parking lot. There were Mardi-Gras beads, with each different colored string representing the loss of a different person. Some people had handfuls of strings - thank god I only had 3.

(When I was in high school, two of my classmates committed suicide within days of each other. A co-worker's boyfried killed himself years later, using medications he got from his job as a veterinarian. None of these were devastating to me, but they were upsetting. Particularly in high school, though my then-religion helped me through that.)

There was music, and speakers, and over a thousand walkers. We all had water, and flashlights, and snacks, and the feeling of being part of something way bigger than ourselves. It was indescribable.

We began walking just after night fell. Along the lake front, past the Pier, through the city, nearly to Evanston (you could see the lights from the midpoint). There were breaks, with people to bandage blisters and rub Ben-Gay where you couldn't reach. Friends and family showed up at intervals, clapping and cheering for total strangers at 3 am. "Lunch" was on the shores of the lake, with the sound of the waves crashing for a soundtrack.

By some fluke of timing, I reached the last 2 miles just as the sky began to lighten. This stretch was where we were given the opportunity to light luminaria, in memory of those who were lost. There were clusters of luminaria for one person, for all people, for self. I found myself weeping steadily as I walked through a mile and a half of emotion, before I made my own contribution.

As I passed into the final part of the walk, the sun was coming up over the lake. I paused outside the Shedd Aquarium to watch and fix the moment in my memory. I will remember those emotions forever.

Finishing the walk was incredible. I don't think I have ever hurt that much in my life, but even then I suspected I would want to walk again. Sadly, next year's event is in New York, so it's unlikely. But we'll see.

I have lived with depression for years now, and am fortunate enough that suicide has never seemed an option to me. But to walk for those less lucky, less advantaged, more afflicted, was my privilege.

Please, if you feel that sort of pain, get help.
There are thousands of people who will listen and hear and understand your story - I walked with them.

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