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Wednesday, March 21 News

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 son, 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.

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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 waver. It was strong, but comforting and consoling, much like a pastor delivering a 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 December morning when 20-year-old Adam Lanza forcefully entered Sandy Hook Elementary School after killing his mother, Nancy, in their home.

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

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 canceled three times due to the winter storm that 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."

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

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.

As she and JT 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.

"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."

"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