Maya Smith is Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation
As my husband and son watched the Rose Bowl and my daughter napped, I sat on my couch with a new sketch book and traced the letters of the words I write most often – Be Kind – in pencil first and then in a permanent, black marker. Under the words, I wrote and underlined three categories; myself, my family, and the world and stared at the empty columns hoping that some brilliance would come to me. The brilliance has not come yet, so I’m writing this blog and hoping that by sharing my intention and inviting you to share yours, we can fill pages together.
Last month during one of our staff meetings, my colleague Aysha told me about the Find Your Anchor box. It’s a box literally filled with kind messages, affirmations, and positive images. The goal of this organization is to erase suicide and ensure that everyone is able to establish an anchor, which they define as “a dependable, stable, secure base that you can hold onto, one that keeps you firmly planted, no matter what winds or storms may come.” I fell in love with the concept, found my next tattoo (I’m sorry, Mom), and ordered two. I brought one with me to Las Vegas last week and carried it around with me everywhere I went, hoping to find someone who needed it more than I did. In each interaction, personal and professional, I asked people how they were, how they were feeling, and how their friends and family were doing. In both blatant and awkward ways and in more subtle and rehearsed ways, I wanted to know about the anchors in the lives of the people around me.
Marques was one of my drivers in Las Vegas. Before we even met, he texted me to ask me if I wanted to coffee, happily shuffled locations as my meetings ran over, arrived 15 minutes early, and on a particularly hectic day when we first met, his bright smile and kind spirit stopped me in my tracks. I sat down in the passenger seat, breathing a sigh of relaxation as he drove me to my next meeting. We chatted about his time in Las Vegas, his childhood outside of Los Angeles and he asked me questions about my work and my family. As most conversations between parents during the holidays go, I shared the story of my children on Christmas morning discovering their new hot wheels next to the Christmas tree. My heart was warmed by the memory and I invited Marques to share his Christmas morning story with his two daughters. “I didn’t see them on Christmas, I wasn’t OK” he answered, teetering on emotion for the first time and trying to change the subject. I gently pressed and invited him to share if he wanted to. Marques wanted to, so he bravely shared his difficult childhood, his often uncontrollable anger, his undeniable and overwhelming love for his daughters and his wife, and his difficult journey to become the type of man that he feels they deserve. Through tears, honesty and bravery, he shared an unimaginably difficult story with me as well as his recent decision to share his journey at work (thankfully met with support and understanding) and seek treatment. Marques didn’t know how the story would end but he knew – for the first time in a long time – that he wouldn’t end his story and that he’d keep fighting.
As Marques sat next to me trembling and crying while still expertly navigating the Las Vegas interstate, I rifled through my purse and opened up the Find Your Anchor box. I took out the note that read, “You are loved, Maya” and wrote, “You are loved, Marques” and handed him the box. I told him that I had been holding onto this box, from New York to California and now Las Vegas, and wanted to give it to someone who needed to be reminded of their anchor, of their strength, and of the need the world has for them. I got out of the car, hugged Marques, and went to yet another meeting – one Find Your Box lighter and one connection stronger.
Far too many people believe that no one wants to hear their stories, that people will fear their stories, and that people will judge their stories. I wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary kind to Marques, I’m so grateful he picked me to share with, and I am not sure how telling you his story will help with my resolution but I think the key to building a kinder and braver world is to share the beautiful stories, the difficult stories and to invest in them; to anchor ourselves in those stories and the people behind them. The key is to keep filling the pages of this story together, some days they’ll be blank or tattered and other days we’ll put hearts over the i’s and draw smiley faces, but if Marques isn’t giving up, if the team at Born This Way Foundation and I are doubling down, then join us, please.