According to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, each year more than 30,000 Americans end their own lives by committing suicide. We have all known people who have done this, either in our own family or the family of co-workers or friends. While suicide is tragic in any case, because a human life is precious and is to be valued and cherished, it is especially so for young people who, under normal circumstances, have their whole lives ahead of them. The pain just has to be horrific for parents who have a son or daughter who commits suicide.
My good friend Bob George, who teaches social studies at the Dodge City High School in Kansas, sent me something in the mail a few weeks ago that has touched me deeply. Bob sent me a packet of newspaper articles about a man by the name of Steve Fugate who passed through his community on his way to completing a 4,858-mile journey from the West Coast to the East Coast on foot. Here is his story and after you read it I believe it will touch you, too. Steve Fugate is originally from South Lebanon, Ohio, but later moved to Vero Beach, Fla., where he opened an Auto Detail Shop.
He successfully operated his business for almost 30 years, but some time ago a friend turned him on to hiking. It was not long until he fell in love with the peace and solitude that came from the long hours of being alone out in nature. One day back in 1999, he left his business with his son Stevie and set out to hike the Appalachian Trail that runs all the way from Central Maine to North Georgia. His son was a brilliant student in college with a perfect 4.0 grade point and he had grown up in his dad’s business, so Fugate felt it was in good hands.
About half way through the hike, Steve received word that his son Stevie, facing the pressures of running the business and possible jail time for a DUI charge that was hanging over him, wandered out on the beach one night with a shotgun and took his own life. Steve was devastated, and he grieved for months. He later said, “There is no worse pain that can happen to a human being, I don’t believe. It carves your heart out.” He would soon make the decision to do something to call attention to the tragedy of suicide.
An act of Congress back in 1992 had created a new hiking trail called the American Discovery Trail, which runs all the way from Point Reyes National Seashore in California to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware, so Fugate decided to hike the full length of this trail to call attention to this national tragedy. After reading all the various articles and seeing the pictures of Steve as he pulled a homemade cart that he designed himself so it could be converted to a backpack for crossing the mountains, I can just imagine the commitment and stamina that must have been required to make this trip.
He averaged about 24 miles per day and said as far as he knows he may be the only man to ever cross the desert without a support team. The entire trip took more than six months to complete, but as he traveled through 13 different states he would tell his story to anyone who would listen. He often spoke in churches, especially in the Midwest where he said the people showed him love and compassion. He began with a little over $2,600 on a trip that would normally have required over $10,000, but he never had wants that were not met and he never asked anyone to help him.
Fugate is a deeply religious man, but his walk across America was not to spread the gospel, but rather to call attention to the tragedy of suicide. The sign on his cart said it all: “LOVE LIFE.”
(Editor’s Note: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway AR 72034.)