Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

It’s an accident that I’m alive. Every day since this was burned in my eye at age 13 has been, as they say where I come from, lagniappe:

Mrs. Reese’s First Period Reading class. Roll call. Settling noises. I’m drawing Aquaman’s new costume on the marble-textured inside flap of my green folder. I have drawn it four times, when a firecracker goes off behind me and my hair stands on end and my neck feels hot.

I turn back to see my friend Matt Cooper slumping forward, his head tilted to his left shoulder, his hand limp in his lap, holding a large gun. Smoke rises slowly above him, and his head is pouring red.

At first I think a red pen has exploded in his face. But it’s blood. As he slowly slumps into the aisle, it pours out of his eyes and nose and mouth and seems to even flow from around his neck, turning his purple Polo shirt black.

Mrs. Reese sounds scared, her voice is too high-pitched when she says “Come now children, come on.”

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. But almost every day I think about Matt, and all the days he’s lost since we were 13, and he made the decision to end his life there in front of us all. I think of all that I’ve accomplished, all the love I’ve felt, all the love I’ve given, all the beauty I’ve seen and places I’ve visited.

And I’ve had low moments, very low moments, when I contemplated following Matt. I’ve had moments with a gun in my hand as well. And it’s then that I’m thankful for having barely survived Matt’s mistake, because it’s then that everything I’ve had the luck to live for has kept me tethered to reality.

Even at its darkest hours, every life is mere moments away from redemption. That even though you feel like there’s nothing to live for right now, if you can hang on just a few more hours, or days, the storm will pass, and light will warm your heart again, and the smallest thing will help you survive.

So, be tender with yourself, know that you’re needed, that you have a purpose, even when you can’t see it, and that you need to stick around to see it.

I wish I could see what kind of man Matt would be right now. I wish I could make his portrait. I wish I could tell him he’s needed.

You’re needed. Stick around. Reach out for help. Lean on us. We need you. We’re all in this together.