Have you ever seen a tree stump and stopped to count the rings?
It’s one of the most innocent, childlike reactions we have.
At least I think it is.
Even when the tree isn’t towering into the sky, so many of us are captivated by each ring we count. What’s even more beautiful, is that if you look closely, you can see the ebb and flow of each layer growing out from its heart. Some layers are tight together, while others have so much space we’re certain we’re missing one.
But that’s growth.
Those tight, compacted rings where growth seemed impossible,
I think in that way we’re a lot like that, too. Just as much as we thrive in sunlight and the joy that life brings, deep down we all have those moments and seasons in our lives that we look back on and wonder how we made it through. Yet, despite whatever convictions we have of the impossibility of surviving, our roots somehow twist deeper into the dirt.
Truly, it’s the epitome of what Rooted Family Photography is about.
That’s why this Client Spotlight for the Connor’s Climb 5k is very bittersweet for me.
As I’m sure it is for countless other people.
And although my camera’s shutter captured people,
My heart saw some pretty incredible rings.
As someone who has experienced the loss of someone very dear to my heart to suicide, this event holds a very special place in my heart. I am honored to say that I’ve seen this organization grow from an idea, to an event that, this year, had over 500 participants. (Think about how incredible that forest would be if each participant was a tree…) All of those people were out there in the crazy New England weather for their own incredible reasons, helping to raise awareness and fight a stigma that has plagued our society for decades.
I can speak first hand of the painful aftermath that ensues after losing a loved one to suicide. The unruly waves of emotions that seem never ending and the unintentional isolation that this taboo grief leaves you in. For a long time it didn’t matter how loud I screamed for help in a crowded room, the word suicide made people so uncomfortable, that finding help was extremely difficult.
But that’s why seeing Tara, and being at the 5k this year was so humbling.
It was proof that things are changing.
The Connor’s Climb Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides suicide prevention education to New Hampshire and it’s community. I had the honor of meeting Tara years ago at a workshop provided through NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness), to certify us in public speaking for suicide prevention and awareness. Through our grief we’ve forged an incredible friendship. I can attest to her authenticity and passion for advocacy and support first hand, as she was at every one of the speeches I gave, hearing my heartache like a broken record, but never leaving my side. Police departments, colleges, universities, anywhere NAMI wanted me to go- she was there, the constant strength I needed in the back of the room, silently reminding me that even if only one heart out of 50 or 100 listened to us, it would be worth it.
And I can confidently say that I’m a stronger person because of her support.
It’s this selfless nature and determination to advocate that Connor’s Climb was founded on, and what has ignited its growth into the organization it is today.
When I arrived on Sunday morning, it was raining. It was an hour and a half before the race, and the sky was painted in hundreds of deep ominous shades of gray, and yet, it was as if nobody noticed. Tables were still going up, the neon orange shirts of volunteers were still racing around with beaming smiles, making it absolutely clear that nothing was going to stop us. At one point, just before check in began, there was a downpour.
The rain was coming down so hard that it was bouncing inches off the pavement.
And I kid you not,
Instead of running for cover or finding umbrellas, people were sprinting to the tables, diving to save the brochures and other invaluable resources being offered that day. I know it was a knee jerk reaction for many of them, but I found something incredibly beautiful about such a simple, selfless act.
Then, as quickly as it came, the rain stopped.
I wish I could say that I was making this up, but, as the racers trickled in from the parking lot, the clouds broke. With the music blaring and the sunlight splashing the pavement, the crowd grew. As I walked around taking pictures, meeting new people and hearing about the journeys that brought them there, I realized just how big this really is.
After the race, when all the runners were clocked in, we announced that we were going to take a group picture for team Dan. As the tie dye shirts began to line up in front of me, my throat tightened. I hopped up onto my chair to take the picture, but quickly had to get down as more people came. So I got down, scooted the chair back, got back up, and I still was not far enough. I had to move my chair back nearly four times to get the entire group. Impossible to tell the difference between tear streaks and sweat marks, it was one of the most bittersweet things I’ve ever seen. To know and understand that unfathomable pain they were feeling, and to see the hugs,
The arms draped over each other,
I could physically see that the isolation I felt so many years ago was fading.
The grief that I felt divided me from the world was now uniting so many.
Things. Are. Changing.
In a way, I think I speak for Tara, her son Drew and I when I say that it feels like we’re part of an uprising. Granted it’s long overdue, but it’s happening. People are being heard. Countless lives are being saved, and Connor’s Climb is at the forefront, providing trainings to help educate and equip people with resources that help soften the edges of judgement and stigma,
And replacing it with advocacy,
I wish that it didn’t take such an excruciating pain to bring us all together, but I’ve learned that sometimes when our hearts break,
Not only is it how the light gets in,
But it also leaves us with a few perfectly good pieces of flint and stone.
I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read this post and learn the significance behind these pictures. Maybe you’ll be able to see the rings that I did. And please, if you or anyone you know may be experiencing a mental health crisis, speak up and reach out.
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