Choosing Love After Sandy Hook

A mother explains how she has reacted to her son’s murder after the Sandy Hook School shootings.

| Summer 2016

My six-year-old son wrote a message on our kitchen chalkboard: “Nurturing Healing Love”. Those three words are not in the normal vernacular of a six-year-old, and were phonetically spelled because he was in first grade and just learning to write, but those three words are among the definitions of compassion across all cultures. My son, Jesse McCord Lewis, died a few days later in the Sandy Hook School shootings, at Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.

This prophetic communication leaves a few questions: Did he know that he was going to leave us? Where did he get those words? But it answers even more. When you define each word, nurturing means loving kindness and gratitude; healing means forgiveness; and love is compassion in action.

This is the algorithm for choosing love. And this was my response to the brutal death of my precious child. I started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation to spread this message throughout the world and to advocate social and emotional learning in schools. Yes, I experienced anger at times, but I thought about how much pain someone had to be in to do something so heinous, and I felt more compassion than anything else.

How could something like this have happened? I’ll tell you what I think: anger. I pictured my son’s killer as a little boy, having an angry thought without the tools or nurturing environment to deal with this emotion. We know that one angry thought can change us on a cellular level and that repeated anger changes the wiring in our brain. Imagine what years of unchecked anger does to a mind, body and spirit. This anger eventually escalated into rage, and I believe rage is what fills our prison systems and is what led to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. And the most amazing thing is that a thought can be changed!

We each have on average 60,000 thoughts going through our heads every day. When you take a moment to think about what you’re thinking, you may come to realize that the majority of those thoughts are the same ones you had yesterday, the day before, the week before and perhaps even for years. These are most likely thoughts that do not serve you and might even be thoughts of anger. I spoke at Jesse’s funeral and asked everyone to consciously change one angry thought a day into a loving one. “By doing this you will make yourself a better person, you will positively impact those around you, and through the ripple effect you will change the world,” I said. The response I received was overwhelming. This simple act of choosing love changed lives.

Tragedy can be a blessing because you gain an incredible perspective about what is important in life, and the rest falls away. You appreciate what you do have and you don’t sweat the small stuff. Since Jesse’s death I have come to understand that the most important thing in life is love and that we are all here to help one another.