On the morning of Sept. 7, I attended the “Walk to Fight Suicide, Out of the Darkness” fundraiser/public awareness event at Krimgold Park in Woodbine just up the street from my house. With over 900 preregistered attendees, plus additional walk-up registrations, the park ran out of parking spaces. Heart warming and emotionally moving is a good way to describe not only my impression, but also everyone else’s.

So many of us have been and will be touched by suicide as statistics are drastically showing. Therefore, it is important for such events to educate the public that individuals are not alone in their struggles with mental illness nor the emotional pain of having lost a loved one. My appreciation as county commissioner is sincerely expressed to all the nonprofits and volunteers who made the event successful.

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As I sat on the knoll above the gathering in anticipation of the walk, I reflected on my experiences with a stepson taking his life at 19 years of age, a daughter overdosing on opiates at 26 and my subsequent depression, thereof. I could not help but cry in a combination of sadness and joy. I knew that most of the attendees shared my feelings, hence their commitment to the cause.

It also made me reflect on the pressure my fellow board members and I have been under for settling a prayer lawsuit brought on by the actions of a previous board and how un-Christianlike some of our constituents have become over the issue. With harassing phone calls bringing my administrative assistant to tears, social media posts calling me Judas taking silver, selling out, folding like a cheap hand of cards and making excuses to hide motives, I began to look around the crowd at the event more intently.

It was then that I figured out not one of these Christians in question was at the event, that I know of, nor the many other events of community outreach I attend as commissioner, such as, opioid awareness, student drug prevention/education, family and children services and homelessness resources. Even though these events are done without a religious banner or opening prayers, do they not encompass the love of one’s spiritual brothers and sisters?

I don’t have to pray openly in public forums as an elected public official to live my spiritual faith, nor do I have to yell out, “In the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and savior”' to live in His doctrine. I fear that some have subscribed to symbolism over substance as an exercise of one’s commitment to God and that saddens me.

My colleagues are good, honorable men, who have my love and support even though we disagree occasionally. Utilizing a moment of silence instead of open prayer allows me the privacy as a Catholic to engage my spirituality just as other Board members can in their Jewish and Protestant faiths.

No one should be questioning the devotion of my colleagues just because they use a moment of silence instead of open prayer. After all, two of them had careers in the education of our children, one risked his life as a soldier in combat zones repeatedly to ensure your religious freedom and one without hesitation or regard for his own life ran into burning homes to save the lives of people he did not know. I dare not question their faith and neither should you.

Therefore, the next time someone wishes to attack our faiths, I request you think about maybe helping at an event, such as suicide prevention mentioned above or the many other outreach programs available to volunteer at. If you espouse a doctrine of faith and love, then you should live it in your activities among your brethren.

In closing, I offer my forgiveness to those who consider me Judas and ask everyone to remember that regardless of your faith, God is love.

Eric Bouchat, who represents District 4 on the Board of County Commissioners, writes from Woodbine.

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