On November 19th and 20th I spent time on the 5asideCHESS Battling Suicide Bus at a food and drink expo in ExCel. Here’s my story:
The bus functions as a moving memorial to loved ones struggling with poor mental health or lost to suicide but some of the messages were fading so my first job was to carefully trace the faded messages with markers to preserve them. I imagined myself as the person who wrote these messages. I copied their style and became them. It was real and raw – particularly the messages written by mothers. I could hardly fathom my own mum being in this position. A mother who can no longer tell her daughter that she loves her but only hope that she knows, wherever she is. As I read the messages I realized how the act of suicide has so much more than one victim. I felt for these people who had been left to mourn the ones they loved and still love.
So the day begins. Imagine our stand. A colorful RV style bus with a giant chess set in front of it and a few more normal size 5asideCHESS sets dotted around. We were well situated by the cafe and the Bus stood out amongst the square, corporate style exhibition stands.
Now I must tell you about 5asideCHESS volunteer Jim. Jim is 77, and full of the sort of life that you don’t find in a 17 year old. He was in a motorcycle accident when he was 16 which left him with limited mobility and chronic pain, yet he still seemed to have a smile on his face in every moment I had the pleasure of sharing with him. Jim was along for the ride with us on this exhibition, volunteering his services to help spread our very important message. For me, when I looked over at Jim, he was a sign of hope and compassion, a sign of possibility and positivity. I am almost ashamed to admit that I had overlooked the capability of a man of Jim’s age. But having spent time with him, I realised he is one of the most switched on and energetic people that I have ever met. Another lesson learned.
Throughout the day we spoke to an extraordinary variety of people. some with prior knowledge and experience of our particular message, and others looking in with a completely new set of eyes. But the response was always positive and I felt a great sense of hope as I realized just how compassionate people can really be. For me the bus stood as a signal. Its okay to talk about this. In an ordinary interaction I can understand how people would not want to open up about something so personal for many reasons. Not wanting to feel as if they are coming across attention seeking or perhaps embarrassment. But in this moment at this occasion, it was almost as if our little bus stood as an okay signal. Its okay not to be okay.
I spoke to people who from my 19 year old perspective seemed so successful, app designers, entrepreneurs. And I was repeatedly surprised at how many of these people had their own story to share. Their own reasons as to why this message was close to their hearts. I was both moved and motivated, as I began to realise yet again, how important this message and movement really is. The thing is that our message is not really about chess, and its not really about suicide either. Our message is about the need for each of us to be able to talk about our feelings with others and ourselves. The chess is simply a tool used to breach the gap between your thoughts and your words. Its not always as easy as just saying what is on your mind. Naturally we become blocked, we hold in our anxieties and by doing so manage to create more. Before long our thoughts become tangled and hard to place. If you’ve ever played chess, you’ll know that it is a similar experience. That feeling that you’re going to fail, or that you’re pinned down by your opponent. That is a very similar effect. Because it’s life. I hope I am not being too cryptic in my attempt to show the link between chess and life. But perhaps if you think that I am then you should use that confusion and intrigue to find out for yourself just how relevant the strategising of chess is and how it can help you navigate your own
I came in to this expo world for the first time this week and as an outsider I believe I can give an unbiased opinion of the things I saw in this world of hospitality. At the base of it, I saw humans. Just a bunch of people like you or me, with brave faces and kind eyes, who were willing to lend a minute
of their time to listen to what we had to say. But as a wider perspective, I saw a disconnected society, created and molded around business and innovation. Almost like we were trying to build security and structure out of new ideas, but at the same time, like we we’re forgetting to innovate
our minds. I saw people who needed interaction in the same way they needed work, or needed security. They needed to be heard, and I would hope that they felt it at least for a moment. Because moments turn in to movements, and movements change the world. I am so thankful to have been a part of this life changing event. I thought it would be sad and that I might feel out of my depth but I was filled with joy on so many occasions, met so many fascinating people and learned so many valuable lessons. I hope to be able to revisit this special way of thinking in the very near future and I hope to see you all there.