It was a simple statement that didn’t need to be said. Some things are that way. So the after school moment of cleaning up an empty classroom was quietly interrupted with pink hair and youthful seriousness. I paused the music and made eye contact when she said, “I just want to thank you for talking about suicide with us. Nobody else does and it means a lot.”
She left as nonchalantly as she walked in. Quiet. Calm. Collected. A walk tinged with a life that very few will know the struggle of. An understanding that others are also experiencing the same struggles and together there is a fighting chance of surviving.
Innocently is how it all started. At Invisible Children’s “Fourth Estate” conference in the summer of 2013, many non-profit speakers and break-out sessions spread the word about helping others in a variety of life needs. They included Saving Innocence, The Giving Keys, Charity Water (which I love!), International Justice Mission and many others. One particular presenter, fresh off a sabbatical, struck a chord within me. That was how I really began to understand Jamie Tworkowski and his movement “To Write Love On Her Arms”.
According to their mission, “To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.”
And I don’t know why it was this year or this time, but when I saw the campaign from TWLOHA for Suicide Prevention Week, I felt compelled to get involved and bought a “kit” complete with wristband, shirt, and posters proclaiming, “No one else can play your part.” And maybe that was the calling, this phrase reminding me of my fortune. My struggles. My ability to work every day with youth who inspire me to be a better person. My appreciation of how difficult others can make our lives by the simple way they look at us, or judge us, or accept us. My knowledge of how intimately affected one can be in the face of mounting pressures, both real and imagined.
Suicide Prevention Week 2014 lasted the first full week of September with Wednesday, September 10 as Suicide Prevention Day. I made many “No one else can play your part” posters and more “No one else can play my part because…” fill in the blank posters for my students. Leading up to the week, I posted the papers and shared with each of my classes that we are here together for a reason and I am thankful they were given the schedule with my name in the slot for their teacher. On September 10, I shared Jamie Tworkowski’s message about life being significant and it ended with my personal message of reaching out to others when we know they need it. Let the suffering souls know that you notice them. That you are there. That you care. That together we can make a difference. And we did.
Now I see my students walk in with binders proclaiming “No one else can play your part.” They’ve written on posters what their part of life contributes to the lives of others. And more than that, I’ve seen those who didn’t think this type of awareness matter see on the faces of their peers that it does. The pain is real. The need is real. The stories are real.
So how do you fill in the answer on a page emblazoned with “No one else can play my part because…”? Mine stated, “…words make me feel alive.” And they do. Always. Because they become the stories. They become understanding. Inspiration. Peace. Bonding. Love. It’s through words that my meaning-making exists and finds sustenance. Mental food. Soul water. When the look between two who know says more than any words could.
This is more than a message, it’s a challenge. Tread lightly with what you say knowing the story of the listener is likely unknown. Stray from judgment. Stray from silence, understanding that our stories are real. They need to be shared. They matter.