Thursday, July 10, 2014
by Andrew Turner
Just over a month ago we began an awareness campaign to show the 22 lives that are lost to suicide each day in our veteran community. Every day the display grew. Every day the impact grew. And on June 30th, we gathered as a community to witness the 660 crosses in the ground, show respect for the lives they represented, and discuss how we could make a change to this tragic statistic. Two days ago we finally took the project down and now it’s difficult to put into words what the last month has meant to us, being there every day, pounding 22 crosses into the ground every day. There is a definite sense of pride for what we accomplished, for the way we were able to share our vision with so many others, and for the way our community responded with support and interest. There is also a feeling of sadness seeing the empty field after spending so much time there. We came to appreciate our time among the crosses and despite the tragedy it represented, we found a calmness and peace there that we are now missing. Leaving town for the 4th of July weekend, Jamie commented that it would be the first day in over a month that we had not been there. I missed it that first day. It seemed that we had put so much of ourselves into that project that not being there was strange. But I’m also glad it’s over.
I’m glad I don’t have to put another 22 crosses into the ground today. I’m glad our project is complete, but it’s only complete because of the limit we placed on it. We could have been back on July 1st with another 22 crosses. And we could have been back July 2nd, and 3rd, and 4th…and as many other days as we wanted, as long as this tragedy continues. So the display serves its purpose of letting people know about this issue. It allows people to put a visual to a statistic. But unless it inspires us to make a change, then what purpose does it serve? The major theme that continued to be discussed at the display was the ripple effect that each suicide has. It was the ripple effect of three that brought us all together on June 30th, over 130 people, most who didn't know each other, yet were touched by the ripples of Brian, Ben, and Zack’s deaths.
We’re going to do this project again. The response it received was greater than we could have imagined and there’s no telling the impact it can have as we share it in other communities. The more people it touches, the more opportunity we have to draw them to our cause and encourage them to stand with us to support these struggling veterans. My hope is that when we do this again (and soon), that we don’t have to put 22 crosses in every day. That instead we can put in 21 crosses, or 20 crosses, or one day have no need for a single cross at all. But that change will only come because of the effort we are willing to put in to bring it about. We cannot simply look at all those crosses and hope that the VA is going to come to our rescue, or some new government program will be what makes a difference. Too many of our brothers and sisters are falling through the cracks and it’s happening every single day. If we truly want to see a change, we need to take responsibility for that change. If we truly think these lives are worth saving, we need to take responsibility for that change. Change will come because we are willing to put in the effort to create it.
So what does that look like? How does, “What can I do to help?” turn into, “This is what I am doing to help…”? You don’t need to have all the answers to a veteran’s problems to help them. You just need to let them know that you care enough to listen to them when they need to talk. You just need to let them know that you care enough to call them, or shoot them a text, or reach out to them on Facebook to see how they are doing and let them know you are thinking about them. You just need to be there for them when they are struggling. None of us can force a veteran to reach out for help with PTSD or other mental health issues. But we can be there to support them when they are ready. We can make sure we are a positive part of their life that lifts them up when they are down. None of that is difficult or requires much of us. Yet it can make a real impact on someone looking for a reason to continue living. Each of us can be the one who makes a change and saves a life. Each of us can be the one who reaches out a hand to those who are slipping through the cracks. Together we can make a change in the statistic that says 22 veterans will commit suicide tomorrow. But it won’t happen by accident. It will happen because people like you and I are willing to stand in the gap and be the change. So what have you done to make a difference for somebody today? What are you willing to do to make a difference for somebody tomorrow? How far are you willing to go to be the one who changes 22 a day to 21?