Sometimes we go through things in life and we feel like we have no control. And it’s true, things happen that are totally out of our control. But we always have control over one thing – how we respond in any given situation. Take the murder of my 6-year-old son. He was killed in his first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary, alongside 19 of his classmates and 6 educators. I couldn’t control the former student who killed all those innocent people, but I did control how I responded to the tragedy. Ultimately, I responded by starting a worldwide movement to choose love through a nonprofit organization I created in honor of my son – the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. It was a process in how I got there.
I started with gratitude. Despite having lost one of my precious sons, his older brother, JT, and I, still had each other. We live on a small horse farm with lots of dogs that we love. Because of the public nature of our tragedy, it seemed as if the world could feel our pain and everyone wanted to help us heal. We received cards from around the world, most from children, wishing us well and telling us that they were holding us in their hearts. As our friends and family gathered around us, I felt blessed and loved. We were thankful for the support, and still are.
Intuitively, I knew that someone who did something so heinous must have been in a tremendous amount of pain. I learned that the shooter had, in fact, been mercilessly bullied in school and had very few friendships and connections in his life. He had actually asked for help, in the way young people do sometimes, by writing macabre stories and having unproductive interests, yet no one noticed. Ultimately he isolated himself, became even more mentally unhealthy and unstable, and in his padlocked basement bedroom, planned one of the US’s worst mass murders of all time.
I tried to put myself in his shoes. I tried to feel what he felt when he was bullied and ignored. When I do this, I can almost feel anger FOR him. This helped me to forgive him for what he did. When I made the decision to forgive I felt what seemed like 100 pounds of anger and resentment lift off my shoulders. I was able to think more clearly, positively, and productively. My decision to forgive is the key to my resilience and in doing so I realized it is a gift that you give yourself.
Feeling grateful for what I did have and making the decision to forgive gave me the strength to step outside my own pain and help others. Instead of focusing on my own situation, I was able to become part of the solution to what caused the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Understanding that the shooter lacked the ability to feel love for himself and others, I created a program called the Choose Love Enrichment Program that teaches students how to choose love for themselves and others. The program is free and I realized the profound healing nature of giving, and how much we receive as a result. When we help others, we are ultimately helping ourselves. We call this compassion in action.
Jesse wrote a message on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before his murder. He wrote three words, “Nurturing Healing Love”. (He spelled them phonetically as “Norurting Helinn Love”…after all, he was just learning to write in 1st grade.) That coupled with the courage with which he chose to respond to the crazed gunman entering his classroom, by yelling for his classmates to run and saving 9 lives, gave us a powerful formula for choosing love in any situation: Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion in Action = Choosing Love. Decades of scientific research have proven that when we choose love we are happier, more resilient, have better relationships and are less likely to get into trouble.
The Choose Love Movement started at Jesse’s funeral when I spoke to those in attendance. I said that I thought the whole tragedy began with an angry thought in the shooter’s head and the amazing thing to me is that an angry thought can be changed! I asked everyone that day to consciously change one angry thought into a loving thought each day. I said that by doing this we are making ourselves happier, helping those around us, and through the ripple effect creating a safer, more peaceful and loving world. People reported back that just by doing that one simple thing, their lives were changed for the better, forever. Since that day our movement has grown all over the world!
We all have the courage that Jesse showed in his final moments. The courage to be kind, to do what is right and to tell the truth. We all have the courage to be grateful, even when things aren’t going our way; the courage to forgive, even when the person who hurt us isn’t sorry, and the courage to step outside our own pain and help others. We all have the courage to choose love! Join us this month as we partner with the Born this Way Foundation and Lady Gaga to spread the message of Choosing Love!!