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A Mother's Journey After the Sandy Hook Tragedy

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A Mother's Journey After the Sandy Hook Tragedy

with love comes healing.
Scarlett  Lewis
Scarlett Lewis More by this author
Oct 29, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Scarlett Lewis is the founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, created in honor of her son, Jesse, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December, 2012. Here she describes the beginning efforts to bring Jesse’s message of love and compassion to the world:

 Developing The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation

 Compassion, I reminded myself, had to be at the very heart of the Choose Love Foundation, and it was time to move forward and build on this idea.

When I returned to Connecticut, my first goal was to find people who knew about teaching compassion and to ask them to help me develop programs for the foundation. And because I was ready, the teachers appeared. I asked Dr. Laura if she knew of anyone who taught compassion and she did—Professor Christopher Kukk at Western Connecticut State University. With a quick Google search I saw that Chris had been developing compassion-based curriculums for years, and had founded the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation to promote compassion in universities. I rang him up immediately, and our first conversation lasted only 30 seconds as he was running out the door, but that was all the time I needed to tell him about my plans.

 Compassionate School Programs

 We clicked in an instant, like two souls coming together to achieve a single purpose. When we met the following week in person at his campus office, I was even more convinced that we’d been brought together for a reason. He was working on compassion-themed school programs, writing children’s books, and advocating for universities to adopt “Compassion Charters” as Spalding University in Kentucky had recently done in 2011. The idea was to create such a compassionate learning environment that the students graduated not only as top scholars but also as compassionate human beings. Chris had been a United States Army counterintelligence agent, he told me, and had seen what happened to people who were completely devoid of compassion, and how “dangerous and destructive” they could be.

We chatted nonstop for an hour; and when I stood up to leave, Chris had tears in his eyes.

I am in this for the long haul,” he said, hugging me good-bye. “I won’t rest until we see a class of students graduating from college who began our program in kindergarten.”

 Speaking with the President 

 When I left Chris’s office, I felt the same forceful, spiritual energy swirling around me as I had right after Jesse’s funeral. It was an incredible, positive force of forward momentum, a feeling that great things were happening and about to happen. And they did, in rapid succession. I was invited along with other Sandy Hook parents to attend an upcoming speech that President Obama was to give at Hartford University, where he had set aside private one-on-one time to greet the parents before his speech. Then, I was asked to speak at a conference about reducing violence in schools, which was also to be held at Hartford University the day after the President’s speech. I accepted both invitations as opportunities to spread Jesse’s message and invited Chris, my new comrade-in-arms, to join me—our teamwork had begun!

 When I discovered that the President’s speech was to be on gun control, I told Chris on the phone that I’d rather skip it and remain focused on the compassion curriculum.

 “Scarlett,” he said, carefully, “let’s think about this now. Your mission is to get nurturing, healing love heard and for it to become a part of our educational system, right? Now ask yourself, who is the one person that can help that happen?

Chris was right; I had to take Jesse’s message straight to the President.

Before President Obama gave his rousing, passionate, and convincing speech, Chris and I had a few minutes with him. It was just enough to give him a hug and launch into my pitch: “Hi, Mr. President, nice to see you again. I’ve started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation to bring compassion into our education system . . .”

 I told the President about Jesse’s messages and why I thought it was important for children to be taught compassion at an early age through school programs based on nurturing, healing love. He was completely focused on me and my words, nodding his head in agreement, saying, “Yes . . . yes!” Just like the first time I’d met him, he made me feel as though what I was saying mattered.

 “We all have to choose love, Mr. President,” I told him.

Chris Kukk and I have our first foundation “meeting” with President Obama. Chris took his cue and jumped in, giving the President details about the core curriculum and how it would work.

Yes, yes!” the President said again. “I am totally on board with this. This is exactly what all our schools need to get across to every child in the country. This is important. I want you to talk to my sister because she’s been working on exactly this kind of curriculum.”

He turned to one of his assistants and told him to give us his sister Maya’s phone number. “This is really important!” he repeated, to both his staff member and to us.

I couldn’t believe what had just happened. It felt like . . . victory!

 President Obama was true to his word and put Chris and me in touch with his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, who was a kindred spirit and devoted to the same mission as us—helping to build a more compassionate world starting with our children. We spoke to Maya from her home in Hawaii, where she runs her own compassion center, teaches courses at the University of Hawaii based on a compassion curriculum, and is working to bring compassion programs into all Hawaiian classrooms from kindergarten through grade 12.

 Meeting the Dalai Lama

 “We call our curriculum the Seeds of Compassion,” Maya said, explaining that the name was a tribute to the compassion initiatives of the Dalai Lama, whom she greatly admired. Who doesn’t admire him? The Dalai Lama has dedicated his life to creating a more compassionate

world. His own holistic blueprint for a compassionate global society is so well developed, intellectually sound, spiritually advanced, and scientifically researched that anyone (including me) designing a compassion-based program of any kind inevitably looks to the work of the Dalai Lama for guidance and inspiration.

 Chris had met and worked with the Dalai Lama the year before at a conference he’d helped organize; he told me meeting the Dalai Lama was life changing for him. Maya, too, was about to meet the Dalai Lama as his honored guest at an upcoming peace symposium in Maryland. We talked about the Dalai Lama’s level of commitment to raising the level of compassion across the planet, and then Maya expressed her own level of commitment to the Choose Love Foundation and the people of Newtown.

I heard about Jesse . . . and everything that happened at Sandy Hook,” she said to me. “I’ve been praying for a way to help you and the other families and children. I’ve been asking myself what can I do, and this is an answer to my prayer. Now I know. I’d like to be involved with the Foundation. I can help you. I am committed for life to helping you,” she said.

 Maya’s passion, expertise, and kindness were like gifts handed to me, and they were soon followed up with another present. Because of a scheduling conflict, she was unable to attend the peace symposium in Maryland and offered me her “honored guest” tickets to see and meet the Dalai Lama in person!

 I took my son  J.T., my mom, and some friends including Lori and Dr. Laura with me to go see this inspiring spiritual leader, whose title means “Ocean Teacher.” We were told when we arrived that scheduling made a face-to-face meeting with the Dalai Lama impossible. So, I sent up a little prayer to Jesse asking him to see what he could do from heaven to make it happen anyway. The following morning, before the event, I heard from the Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden, co-founder of the Dalai Lama’s compassion program: “I’m bringing the Dalai Lama to you in ten minutes.”

He gave us instructions to wait in our hotel lobby, and so we waited, excited and nervous, on the main floor. Then I saw the Dalai Lama walking toward us, draped in burgundy cloth. He bowed to us and shook J.T.’s hand. I quickly introduced him to my mom and Lori—then he looked at me with those remarkably soulful eyes, and I said, “I lost my son Jesse during the Sandy Hook tragedy.”

How old?” he asked softly.

He was six,” I answered.

He stepped toward me and embraced me tightly, gently cradling the back of my head with his strong right hand. It felt as though we stood like that forever. Lori told me later that she saw a tear roll down his cheek. My head tingled for the rest of the day; I can still feel it when I close my eyes and recall that miraculous moment.

 During that weekend, while I was trying to absorb as much wisdom and knowledge as I could from him, I was struck by the thousands of hearts the Dalai Lama touched with his humble, self-effacing, and quietly passionate presentation.


Excerpted from Nurturing, Healing, Love by Scarlett Lewis with Natasha Stoynoff - Copyright © 2013 (Hay House). 

About Author
Scarlett  Lewis
Scarlett Lewis, mother of Jesse Lewis and founder of The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, graduated from Boston University with a B.S. in Communications in 1990. She began her career at the Greenwich Times Newspaper in Greenwich, CT as an e Continue reading