If you've been around me for long, you've heard the story...It was suicidal ideation that started the "Tenderness Tour," my nearly 20 year grassroots effort to end violence in the lives of children.
I was sitting in front of the offices of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana. It was October 9, 1989, and I was along with $20.00 in my pocket and a backpack on my wheelchair. I'd written them a letter telling them of my plans, but I'm pretty sure they thought I was kidding.
I had been born with a birth defect called spina bifida, and childhood sexual abuse had left me feeling disconnected from others and myself. In the year preceding my arrival at the doorstep of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, I had lost my wife, newborn child, both feet and virtually everything financially.
I'd attempted suicide on multiple occasions, including a dramatic attempt not long before the first Tenderness Tour. Out of desperation to find out if there was a reason to go on, I planned this attempt with two primary goals: 1) Help others because it was too late to help me, and 2) Find out if there was any tenderness in the world.
I came home after having traveled by wheelchair for 41 days and over 1,000 miles around the border of Indiana. I came home realizing that there was an alternative to suicide, and I committed myself to a life of helping others through my writing, speaking, outreach and fund-raising efforts.
In other words, Owen Lowery is my kind of guy.
Following a mental breakdown, Lowery decided to make himself a list of 52 things he'd been meaning to do. Over the course of a year, Lowery tackled his list...sometimes with humor, sometimes with great sadness and nearly always with an honesty and vulnerability seldom revealed in a film such as "An Alternative to Slitting Your Wrist."
Films such as "An Alternative to Slitting Your Wrist" run a great risk, especially when the filmmaker is the actual subjecf of the film.
While Lowery occasionally crosses the line into self-indulgence, "An Alternative to Slitting Your Wrist" is refreshingly straightforward and impressively devoid of moments that feel forced, manipulated or self-promoting.
Lowery's list ranges from the strange, such as squirrel fishing and taking a dump on Mt. Rushmore, to the more sublime that includes such things as getting a tattoo that had been designed by an autistic cousin or simply making someone else's day by handing out free umbrellas.
The film starts out lightly. It's almost as if Lowery is working up the courage to do what he has set out to do. Suddenly, it happens. Lowery begins to let down his guard, reveal himself more fully and almost instantaneously we the audience go from observers of the journey to companions.
"An Alternative to Slitting Your Wrist" isn't likely to appeal to everyone, with its staunch devotion to honesty and authenticity over happy endings and clear-cut resolution. These days, it seems that one can't make a film about personal issues without being accused of being self-indulgent.
The power of "An Alternative to Slitting Your Wrist" may succeed where mental health centers across the nation are failing. Much as I myself learned nearly 20 years after that first Tenderness Tour, Lowery's willingness to be open and vulnerable is a reminder that we are not alone, we DO need each other and, yes, there is always an alternative to slitting your wrist.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic