Staying to help others stay

Bryan Barks
3 min readDec 16, 2016

“We need you here. Stay.”

…We walk slowly and he holds my hand, points out different types of trees and birds on branches. The light is colorless and shines directly into my eyes. They hurt. But he is talking, and I know suddenly that I am not nearing the end. That I will recover. That the leaves will return soon.

We are walking, and I am remembering car rides as a child. Speeding through tunnels, brief darkness followed by this brilliant light. Discovering a penny on the floorboard, suddenly apparent. Blinding copper — a color I’d always known.

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s difficult to admit but important to say. I’m spinning in a dark, heavy fog that started wafting in months ago and has become thicker and harder to navigate since the election.

So many people are aching right now. The hurt is palpable. I see it in people’s faces. I hear it trembling in my friends’ voices. Suicide prevention helpline calls spiked after the election. Families are living in fear of what’s to come — being deported, having their unions delegitimized, being targeted and persecuted based on their beliefs, heritage, who they love, gender identity, the color of their skin. We hear about horrific hate crimes daily. A gunman walked into my neighborhood pizza spot, violent and delusional because of an absurd conspiracy theory propagated by fake news outlets.

Feeling my way through the darkness these last few weeks, arms outstretched, five separate people have called or messaged or emailed, hurting, needing to talk. Friends and acquaintances and almost-strangers. Five quiet hands on my shoulders in a pitch black room.

Five people felt like a lot in a short period of time. Then I remembered the 65,000,000 still reeling.

Talking over lunch or typing in my living room, I’ve found myself telling those five people, “I am always with you.” “I am here.” “Keep going.” “Sending love and strength.” “You can talk to me any time.”

Sincere clichés. And then, most importantly:

“Stay.”

It is the single most important message we can communicate to each other in this dark time. Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay in the country. Stay in your community. Stay involved. Stay in this life. We will make it through this heavy night — not unscathed, maybe in pieces. But only if you stay.

Crumble if you need to. Let me sweep you up. I am crumbling, too. Hold me in your hands. Don’t go anywhere.

Years ago, my doctor put his hand on my shoulder as I was leaving his office. “We need you here. Stay.” He helped me hold on.

I don’t know if I am helping the people I talk to. But I hold them tight. And I’ve realized that keeping them close gives me strength, too. The words I share are my pact to struggle through with them, to hold on, to hurt, to fight, to heal, to scratch and claw until my hand catches on something solid, to take care of them and myself — no matter how imperfectly.

It is a misconception that those who are hurting can only care for themselves. There is power in pain, in overcoming it, in living despite it. The wounded can heal one another because we know the ache intimately.

Our hurt visits for different reasons and manifests in different ways, but there is one constant: it subsides. It passes. Light follows.

The journey to well-being is not linear; it’s broken and twisted and spirals into nowhere and takes you in circles. You arrive and then get lost again. You trip and scrape your knees. There’s not a fix that keeps you well forever. It’s driving down a road with the sun in your eyes, speeding through tunnels, accelerating, racing toward the light at the end. It’s remembering not to overcorrect when you drift onto the shoulder. It’s pulling over when it’s raining too hard to see clearly. Sometimes I sit there and sing at the top of my lungs while the rain hammers down and paints the windshield blurry. My throat is raw and my voice rattles and screeches.

Then the water slows. The penny on the floorboard catches my eye.

A tiny glint, a copper flash, a reminder: Stay, you. And help others stay.

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Bryan Barks

30. Mental health & gun violence prevention advocate. Baltimore.