The Out of the Darkness walk was probably one of the most powerful, emotional and physically challenging experiences I have ever had. I arrived in New York City with my small team of 5 people from the DC area (4 walkers plus one supporter) to participate in and support what I believe to be an extremely important cause: awareness and prevention of suicide and associated mood disorders.
When we arrived, we were greeted by countless volunteers and crew, all there to help guide us through the night. We were given beads to represent our personal connection to the cause – gold if you lost a parent, white if you lost a child, bronze if you lost a sibling, purple for friends, green if you have battled with depression and thoughts of suicide yourself, and blue if you simply wanted to support the cause.
There were small teams, large teams, and many folks who arrived alone to take part in the event. I was moved by those who pinned on themselves pictures of children, parents, siblings, friends, or others who were dear to them and took their own lives. Messages were written on signs, hats, and shirts. I noticed one woman who seemed to walk alone the entire night holding up a sign with a picture of her teenage son the entire time.
We began walking at about 8:30 pm from South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan and made our way through the crowds at times square all the way up the west side to 145th street. We stopped at Riverside Park at about 1 am and had a sandwich, stretched and began our trek back to lower Manhattan. All I could think of at that point was that woman with her sign. I was even more determined to finish on time.
At my final pit-stop (about 5 miles from finishing) I stopped and made sure to stretch as well as I could. It was about 3 am and fatigue had set in about 8 miles ago. Yet all I could think of was that woman and the picture of her son. At this point I was too tired to keep up with the rest of my group – I had to slow my pace down in order to finish. I spent the last 5 miles walking alone, thinking about why I was there – remembering my Mom, and my childhood friends, Kevin and Chris.
I passed lone walkers who seemed to be as determined as me. I was inspired by an older gentleman who I had passed several times throughout the evening. He seemed to be having trouble early in the walk (when I saw him at about mile 5) and I asked him if he was ok. He told me he was in a lot of pain but he refused to stop. I walked beside him for a while when the neighborhood darkened. I had to pick up my pace eventually, so I moved on and wished him well. Later on, at my final pit stop, I saw him sitting and eating. I was glad again to seem him make it to the end in time for the closing ceremony. He inspired me as well.
My friends were waiting for me at the entrance to the closing ceremony. I was so happy to see them! They waited for me to cross the line – it was an amazing feeling as we were cheered on by countless other walkers, volunteers, and supporters. The sun was rising – we had made it through the night.
We were each given a luminary upon which to write a message and then line the closing ceremony area with. Reading these messages was very difficult for me – heartfelt messages addressed to beautiful children, loving partners, best friends, parents, and others. I wrote messages to my Mom, Kevin, and Chris. A flood of emotion ripped through me like a massive wave. I had held my tears back all night and I could not do it any longer. Finally I was brought to tears.
Physically and emotionally exhausted, a wave of emotion passed through me – full of sadness and loss, I stood there in awe of being amongst so many others in my same shoes. All of these people were there to stand up for those who could not do it for themselves. All of us were there to give each other strength. I began to feel humbled and strengthened by being part of this entire experience, by being with so many who had the courage to stand up for their loved ones and to try and make a difference in the lives of others.
Shortly thereafter we packed up our belongings and headed home. I will not ever forget this experience (I may even do this again) and the special people I met along the way.
Our team raised a little over $7,000 because of the wonderful donors who supported us. The 2007 Out of the Darkness walk raised more than $2.6 million dollars – an amazing amount of money for just 2000 walkers. If just one life is saved by this, it will all have been worth it.
I am so thankful for everyone who supported us – together we made a difference – hopefully we will save a life.