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Dublin: -1 °C Monday 18 November, 2019
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Column: We walked for the living, the dead, and everyone who suffers from depression

Adrian Millar was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in this year’s Darkness into Light fundraiser. He describes the atmosphere of hope and support he experienced as he walked shoulder-to-shoulder with others raising awareness about suicide.

Adrian Millar

Darkness into Light is an annual fundraiser for Pieta House which aims to raise awareness about self harm and suicide. Tens of thousands of people took part in this year’s event, across 20 different venues in Ireland. Here, writer Adrian Millar recalls his experience.

IT’S 2.15AM and it’s time to get up and get on my bicycle and cycle into Naas from Prosperous for the Darkness into Light walk, and I’m thinking, am I mad? Could I not just roll over in bed and say I forgot?

But I haven’t forgotten, and now I’m dressed and on my bicycle, following the route into Naas along the canal. To my relief, the faint moonlight illuminates the rain-filled potholes, for I don’t have a light on my bicycle. Besides, I’m on red alert for ghosts, though there’s no sign of anything right now, just the sound of water and the wind in my ear – eerie enough. But I talk to the dead, anyhow: Frédérique in France, Tokunaga in Japan, Emile in Belgium, Kelley in the USA, and a few friends of mine from Clane and Prosperous, all of whom have lost their lives through suicide. “I’m doing this for you,” I tell them, but there is no answer, thankfully. Instead, a woodpigeon takes flight from among the bushes, frightening the life out of me.

Soon, to my relief, I am leaving the darkness behind me and entering Sallins. I cycle like the clappers up Monread Road. I’m ten minutes late. I reach the gates of Naas Racecourse. I spot a few cars in the car-park. At least, I’m not the only fool up at 4am, I think to myself. And then I see them: dozens of cars, and then hundreds. I’m flabbergasted.

I park my bicycle and fall in behind the tail-end of a small group of walkers – a few women with dogs in the yellow Darkness into Light T-shirts. “Which way has everyone gone?” I ask them. They direct me towards the Blessington Road.

People young and old took to the streets

I pass a few walkers – mothers with children dragging their feet. My heart swells with admiration for them. A car comes up behind us. The driver winds down the window. “It’s well for some travelling by car,” one of the walkers shouts out to the driver. “Have you lost the power of your legs?” We chuckle. The driver is one of the organisers of the walk and is protecting walkers from traffic from behind.

I catch up with a group of walkers – men and women. “It was worth getting up at 3am this morning …” I overhear a woman say to her husband as I pass them by, “… because seeing you at that time of the morning was like an apparition.” Their friends burst out laughing. I chuckle to myself. “It’s incredible how something like this can catch the public imagination,” a man says to his mates, and he’s right.

Just then a sea of yellow comes into view – young people, old people, grannies with toddlers in prams. Thousands of people are here. People with their friends. Couples holding hands. Elderly people with walking-sticks. People walking alone. An early cock crows from a housing-estate. I check my watch: 4.20am and the streets of Naas are thronged as far as the eye can see.

I pass Naas Hospital. The crowd winds it way up the street towards Naas Main Street like a festive yellow Chinese dragon. An ambulance exits the hospital and puts on its siren. The crowds silently step aside to make way for it.

“Talk about the parting of the Red Sea!” a man says beside me, and there is more laughter.

We reach the Main Street.

A mother pulls her son towards her and places her arm around him. “You’ll soon be the same size as me,” she says. “Next year you’ll be up to here.” She points at her neck, and I’m warmed by her dream for her child.

Blackbirds sing.

Life’s little intamacies

We pass the courthouse and make our way up the street past the town hall. I can see people all the way up to Marks and Spencer now, and beyond. I pass out two women. “My wedding ring and engagement ring don’t fit me anymore,” one of them says to the other. “I’m after starting to carry them around in my bag.”

I take note.

Life’s little intimacies at 4.30 in Naas.

We reach the Blessington Road. A community on the move. A group of teenage girls cut in through the garage on the corner. “You’ll have to do the whole walk all over again,” the mother of one of them calls out to them as they rejoin the main group, and we all laugh some more.

We reach the finishing line.

“Well done! Well done!” a volunteer calls out to us as we pour into the pavilion at the racecourse. “Be sure to bring along all your friends next year and make it even bigger and better!”

I promise myself to return with friends next year.

I mill among the hundreds of people queuing up for sandwiches and refreshments, then take my leave.

I cycle home. Hares bolt at the sight of me. A fox greets me in a nearby field. A fisherman takes his seat along the canal at 5.30am. Life is returning to the world. The darkness is receding. Rain comes on.

Walking for everyone suffering from depression

And then it hits me: I’m not doing this trip for the dead. I’m doing this for the living. I’m doing this for all those who suffer from depression. I’m doing this for all those who have ever felt like ending it all, like I once did myself 20 years ago when I left the Jesuits and felt that my world was falling apart and I went down to the water’s edge in Dun Laoghaire.

And I want them to be here next year with me. I want them to walk the streets of Naas.

We all do.

We want them to laugh.

And they will.

I did.

Lots.

Adrian Millar is a stay-at-home father of three daughters, with two PhDs and a passion for the beauty of everyday life. People follow his various shenanigans on Facebook, on Twitter, in his Dad’s World column in the Feelgood section of Friday’s Irish Examiner, and on Linkedin. Feel free to join them. You can also keep up to date with happenings at adrianmillar.ie. His novels have received praise from Marian Keyes, Patricia Scanlan and Cathy Kelly – and you can buy The Quiet Life, a family drama, much loved by Marian Keyes, on Amazon Kindle or in print at Lulu.com. It can also be downloaded to your iPad at Smashwords.com. TomaYto, TomaHto, his forthcoming novel, will be published in June 2013.

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