PORTLAND, Maine — In early March Chris Bennett, a professional photographer from Maine, will get on his bicycle in San Diego and start pedaling. If all goes according to plan, about seven weeks later he’ll roll into Maine and dip his front tire into the ocean at Willard Beach in South Portland.
There’s a lot that could go wrong. The route will take him across the southern U.S. in the middle of tornado season. He’ll have to cover 80 to 85 miles a day to meet his deadline for returning to work on time. Along the way there will be annoyances large and small: frigid nights, broiling days, swarming insects, sore muscles, boring food, and tractor-trailers roaring past at 70 miles an hour. He’s aware of the challenges, but not worried about them because as the miles go by he’ll be thinking about the people he hopes to help with this trip.
Bennett has set a goal with this ride of raising $10,000 for the cause of suicide awareness and prevention. As he crosses the continent, he’ll stop and talk with people whose lives have been touched by suicide, and if they’re amenable he’ll take their photo and record a short conversation about the loss they suffered. He’s already done some of this storytelling with people in Maine, and it has struck a chord.
“Twenty or twenty-five people have reached out to me and said they’d like to be part of this project. They’d like to tell their story to help raise awareness,” Bennett says. “All of those people have been women. Not one man has reached out to me. And I think that’s kind of telling about how men have a hard time talking about suicide. They tend to bottle it up inside, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do.”
One of the women who told her story to Bennett is Jade Langevin of Biddeford, whose brother Michael took his life three years ago. “A lot of times people feel that expressing your sadness or talking about it is a weakness, and crying is a weakness,” she says. “But to me, I truly believe it is a sign of strength to be able to look inward and ask for help.”
The money Bennett raises will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Fifty cents of every dollar will go to the Maine chapter of that organization.
To donate click here.