This year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Manhattan chapter had over 2,000 participants register to fundraise for our annual Out of the Darkness community walk. Each year I have participated since 2014, the walk fundraisers and crowds have only gotten bigger and bigger. Suicides in this country are only increasing as terrible as that sounds, and unless people start acknowledging it as an issue, the numbers will only increase. I was chatting with the director of the New York City walks this morning when I arrived at South Street Seaport for the opening ceremony, and she said that it was a bit of a mixed feeling for her every year: on the one hand, she’s so excited by the increased involvement and crowds we draw each year; at the same time, it makes her feel so distraught to think that more and more people are being affected by suicide, which is what is prompting them to show up and support. “It’s encouraging and depressing at the very same time,” she said to me with a half smile.
I don’t really know anyone who walks every year. I recognize the director and a few members of the board, but I don’t really talk to any of them other than the director. I’m not even sure what to say to them. It’s become a bit generic like most social gatherings. “Thanks for coming!” “Thanks for participating!” And although we are all there to support the same cause, as much as we say that people should be more open, a lot of these people are not open at all; they instead put generic fundraising messages on their fundraising pages to ask for donations. While it’s great that they are raising money with their canned messages, and while it’s amazing they are fundraising period, it doesn’t really inspire me. It doesn’t inspire people to be open and honest and real. So I don’t really have any desire to associate with them more.
I rather have real conversations with real people, even if it’s sad and painful, even if it brings up tortuous memories of suffering. We can bond over it. We can create solidarity. Because isn’t that what this walk, this desire to increase awareness, is all about?
I did meet one person who came alone this year. She lost her dad to suicide in this very city 17 years ago. This was her very first year participating and fundraising. I hope that given our conversations, she will come again and be open.