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Scarlett Lewis seeks to choose love, change angry thoughts

Scarlett Lewis couldn't imagine going back to her Newtown horse farm after learning that her 6-year-old Jesse was one of the 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14, 2012.

She couldn't think about seeing Jesse's toys on the ground, his pajamas by his bed, boots by the door, or toothbrush by the sink.

Eventually, though, she needed to leave the comfort of her mother's house across town and walk through the front door of her home to pick up clothes for Jesse's funeral.

She was surrounded by her family in that moment and as she was leaving the house, clothes in hand, she saw a message from Jesse.

Scrawled on the kitchen chalkboard, and spelled phonetically, were the words "norurting, heling, love" in Jesse's handwriting. Lewis said he must have written it before going to school for the last time. Nurturing. Healing. Love.

"Those three words are not in the vernacular of a 6-year-old," Lewis, who was raised in Darien, told the audience at the Darien Community Association Tuesday.

And it's not as if Jesse learned the words from Lewis either. As a single mom of two boys, Lewis was out of the house at 7 a.m. only to return home at 7 p.m.

"I knew immediately that they were words of comfort for his friends and family," Lewis said. "But I also knew it was a message of inspiration for the world."

Those words would be the primary driver for Lewis' days and months following the Friday that shook Newtown.

Lewis' book, "Nurturing, Healing Love," tells the story of her life after Dec. 14 and what she's learned in the wake of one of the worst school shootings in the United States.

Lewis' voice did not waiver. It was strong, but comforting and consoling, much like a pastor delivering his Sunday sermon.

"On that day, a very angry young man shot his way through the front glass doors and with a semi-automatic weapon started a killing spree," Lewis said, referring to the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza forcefully entered Sandy Hook Elementary School after killing his mother, Nancy, in their home.

Lanza passed one first-grade classroom before turning left into Jesse's class.

He would kill Jesse's "beloved" teacher Victoria Soto, who was standing just behind Jesse, and then ran out of bullets. Read Full Article 

In the short time that Lanza took to reload his gun with the magazine clip that was taped to the side of the weapon, Jesse called out to his classmates to run, Lewis said.

It was because of Jesse that his classmates fled from the classroom to safety, subsequently saving their lives.

By the time that Jesse had cried out his warning, Lanza had finished with his gun and killed the 6-year-old boy.

Lewis is proud of her son for using his last moments alive to be a service to others and to be brave enough to save the lives of his friends.

After Christmas that year, Lewis and her 13-year-old son JT took a "healing" trip to Orlando, Fla., that had already been booked.

Lewis knew they needed to escape Connecticut for their own well-being. The Christmas presents Lewis had purchased for Jesse were doled out to cousins in the family.

Leaving was no easy task though, as the airport they left from changed from White Plains, N.Y., to Newark, N.J. Once at the airport, the flight was cancelled three times due to the winter storm that had slammed the East Coast. As compensation, the passengers were given a free movie for their flight.

For the surrounding passengers in the cabin, their movies were selected, headphones put in their ears and the minutes turned into hours on the flight.

Lewis had no such luck. Her screen would flicker and flicker and flicker when suddenly, the channels changed to a radio station playing "Jesse's Girl," Lewis told the audience, which let out a collective gasp of shock and awe.

Lewis took this as a message from Jesse and tried to conceal her joy from her son, who she said is not "into that sort of stuff."

Again she tried to watch a movie, noticing that no one else in the surrounding area seemed to be having problems with their screens, except her.

And again, the screen flickered and changed stations again, this time to a radio station playing a song filled with lyrics of love and missing someone.

It was then that JT noticed his mom's technical problems with her TV and tried to help. He looked at her and said, "Jesse."

"I know," Lewis responded.

When they finally landed at Orlando International Airport, Lewis told a friend "post-12/14" that Jesse was "all over the flight."

"Sometimes spirits linger because they want to make sure that you're going to be OK," her friend responded. Lewis told JT that she needed to use the bathroom and locked herself in a stall.

"Dear Jesse," Lewis prayed. "Please, if you're lingering here because you want to know if me and JT are going to be OK, we're going to be fine, we're going to be just fine."

She said she prayed to Jesse to let him know that she wanted him to "be in the arms of Jesus."

"It would be great if you could be here, too," Lewis continued to tell the audience, her eyes closed tight and both hands clutching the wireless microphone. At this point in Orlando, she was in the bathroom "bawling," but she knew she and her son had left Connecticut to start the healing process and returned to JT, who was waiting with their luggage, not telling him what just happened.

As the two were leaving the airport in their rental car, they saw that a sky-writing plane had written "Jesse and Jesus together forever," with the J in Jesse's name backwards, just how Jesse used to write his name, Lewis said.

She stopped the car and turned to look at JT.

"Jesse is with Jesus," JT said to his mother.

"I know," she replied. The two sat and waited to see if any more would be written in the sky.

The plane started to sky-write: "You + God" followed by a smiley face.

No one knew when their plane from Connecticut was set to land, Lewis said, and multiple attempts to track down the pilot have come up short.

"I said to JT, `This is our message that we have to stay close to God to be happy,'" Lewis said, "And JT said, `I know, can we go to Disney now?'"

Lewis said her book shares the signs she received from Jesse before and after he died and her ability to find meaning in her suffering.

"I'm thankful for my ability to serve others, " Lewis said. "But I'm always aware of the dichotomy of my life. I have all these beautiful blessings and I'm thankful for them, but at the same time, I'm aware of why I have a book."

Following her son's death, Lewis created the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, with a mission to spread the message that a thought full of anger and hate can be changed into one of love and compassion. The organization is developing compassion- and wisdom-based curriculums to be taught in schools and communities.

JT has also found a way to help others through his healing process. After speaking to two orphans who lost their family in the genocide in Rwanda, JT established Newtown Helps Rwanda, which raises money to allow the orphans to go to college while still providing for their families. The two he had spoken with told JT how they had been able to overcome their personal tragedies to live a life of love and compassion.

In two months, JT was able to raise $1,600, enough money to send one of the orphans he spoke with to college for one year. He would later raise the additional money needed for her to go to college for four years.

"Forgiveness is a the most important aspect of my healing journey," Lewis said. She added that she's forgiven Lanza -- whom she referred to as Adam -- and that she's forgiven herself, though she has found the latter more difficult. "I had to forgive myself for my shortcomings as a mother."

There are two decisions people can make on a daily basis, she said.

"You can live your life faithfully or you can live your life fearfully," Lewis said. "Every morning when you wake up you make that decision. Every interaction is an opportunity to make that decision."

She said it would be easy to point a finger at Lanza or his mother and say "It's your fault," but it's not so simple.

"This whole thing started with an angry thought in Adam's head," Lewis said. "But angry thoughts can be changed. Angry thoughts can be changed into loving thoughts."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews

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