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NURTURING HEALING LOVE
a Mother's Journey of Hope and Forgiveness
By Scarlett Lewis, Natasha Stoynoff
HAY HOUSE, INC.Copyright © 2013 Scarlett Lewis
All rights reserved.
Jesse McCord Lewis came into this world the same way he would live each day of his life—like a force of nature.
He was born on June 30, 2006, weighing in at a whopping 11 pounds and with an ear-jarring set of lungs. From the get-go he was in a rush to tackle life. On my first visit to the nursery I was surprised to find a group of nurses gathered around Jesse's crib, oohing and aahing and taking photos. It seems Jesse had tried to crawl out of his bassinet before he was even one day old. "I've never seen that happen in all my years in the maternity ward," said one nurse, shaking her head in amazement.
As he got older, Jesse was still in a hurry, and never grew tired of making big entrances. Why walk into a room when you could run in with arms spread wide, yelling "Heeeerrre's Jesse!"? He had a big personality and a big voice to match. He was named after his grandfather and great-grandfather, Jesse and McCord. I chose the name because it sounded rough-and-tumble to me, like a cowboy.
A few people thought Jesse was a bit too noisy and overactive, but to me, especially in hindsight, I believe Jesse was in such a lively hurry because he had an intuitive sense that he would only have a short time on this planet.
I must have sensed that as well. On the day he was born, I held Jesse in my arms and said this prayer:
Dear Jesus, thank you so much for Jesse. I know that he is a gift, and I know that you could take him from me at any time, but please don't.
I don't know where that prayer came from or why I said it, but I said it every night of his life after tucking him in to sleep. I'd slip my hand under his pajama top and rest it on his chest to feel his beating heart, and I'd say the Jesse Prayer. Looking back, the prayer was just one of countless signs I believe God sent to prepare me for the unimaginably painful event in my future.
I didn't know it then, but I had been preparing for this event for years. Before Jesse was born I'd written and published a story about a mother and a child having to part. I wrote Rose's Foal, a children's book, after 9/11 when my older son and only other child, J.T. (Joseph Theodore), was just one year old. I wanted to share a story of hope and beauty with J.T. as he grew older. I didn't want his imagination to be filled with the images of violence and death that had become such a part of our daily lives. We had recently moved to a small farm in Connecticut that we still call home today, so I decided to use the natural surroundings of our farm for inspiration. I'd always loved horses and had ridden since I was a child; we had several of our own at the farm. The day before the attacks, our horse Rose gave birth to a baby colt.
Over the next few months, I would put J.T. in his little red Radio Flyer wagon and pull him out to the barn to take photos of Rose and her colt. Later I wrote a simple story about a mother horse teaching her colt about love, being brave, and loss. The mare explains that sometimes a mother and child must separate and "one day they might not live on the same farm." But even if they never saw each other again, they would always be together in their hearts.
"Every mother and child share a special bond in their hearts, regardless of distance or time, forever and always," the mare reassures her colt, because "love never ends."
J.T. loved that book, and years later Jesse would come to love it, too—he asked me to read it to him over and over again.
Another thing I now realize was part of my unknown journey to prepare for this event was my quest to become the best mom and person I could be.
Like so many people, while growing up I accumulated my share of anxieties and fears that stayed with me into adulthood. I often lived my life and made decisions from a place of fear and worry—fear about the future and worry about losing what I had. This pattern kept me trapped in a cycle of emotional turmoil that among other things lead me into some unhealthy relationships. And even though my own parents' divorce had been devastating to me when I was a teenager, I ended up as a single mom.
I had a lot of baggage in my life, but by the time Jesse was born, I'd decided to make changes so I could set a good example for my kids and be a better person for myself. I set out on a spiritual journey, which began with widening my traditional belief system. I was raised Episcopalian, and I held on to my routine of daily prayer and Bible reading. But when I decided to change, I opened myself up to new ideas and methods—how to heal myself and contemplate the world in ways that might raise eyebrows in my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
I surrounded myself with new mentors, learned new concepts, and read mind-expanding books. One in particular inspired me to take my journey to the next step. Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life opened my eyes to the power of positive thinking and officially launched my lifelong exploration of other inspirational books—be they the words of Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, or Eckhart Tolle. This obsession with reading inspirational literature often made me the object of the boys' friendly teasing.
"Oh, Mom! We don't wanna hear it!" J.T. would say, rolling his eyes, when I tried to teach them about positive affirmations or mind over matter or whatever else I was studying at the time.
"Yeah, Mom," Jesse would chime in. "It's a choice, it's a choice, it's a choice ... we get it!"
And while they chided me and laughed at what I was doing, they truly did get the benefit of everything I learned. I felt gratitude for the blessings in my life, and I promised myself that I would never pass up an opportunity to kiss my boys or tell them "I love you."
I can still remember the first time I put that thought into action as I passed by Jesse's crib one night on my way to make a work call. I caught a glimpse of his soft little cheek, and my internal monologue went like this: Oh, what a sweet cheek! But I have to make a call ... I'll kiss it later. Wait, no. Do not pass up this moment. These moments are gifts. You never know when you will get another opportunity to kiss that little cheek.
So I put off the call for a few minutes and kissed his cheek, and from that kiss onward I grabbed every chance I got to express my love and affection to my boys. And thank God I did.
Over the next six years, Jesse grew into a delightful combination of a lovable mama's boy who couldn't cuddle enough and a fearless, rambunctious kid who was all boy. He'd bound downstairs and streak through the kitchen like a comet to get outside and play soccer, stomp through the mud, swing from tree branches, chase the dogs, and jump off the highest hay bale. He loved birds of all kinds; he checked out library books on birding and had a pair of yellow binoculars he'd roam around the farm with, trying to identify as many different species as he could. And like his mama, he loved to paint. Whenever he joined me in my art room upstairs where I was often working on portraits of the boys, we joked that I became his attentive assistant—replenishing his colors and rinsing his brushes—as he focused on his art.
At night, he'd climb into his bubble bath and surround himself with dozens of colorful little rubber ducks of every variety—cowboy ducks, sailor ducks, ducks with sombreros, superhero ducks, football player ducks, military ducks, and so on—by lining them up along the rim of the tub. He'd coo to them and care for them as though they were living creatures. And then he'd shift straight into playing war with his prized collection of toy soldiers that he called "army men." Rubber duckies and army men were scattered all over the house and yard—it was a sweet dichotomy that really captured Jesse's personality.
In keeping with his gentle spirit, his affinity for soldiers was more with the United Nations–type peacekeeper than the Schwarzenegger commando–type warrior. That's just who Jesse was. God gave him a protective spirit. He loved going on "patrol" around the farm. He'd put on his green army helmet, and slip on his heavy snow boots with a camouflage design—even in the blazing summer heat—because they looked like combat boots. Then he'd tuck a plastic water pistol in the waistband of his shorts and off he'd go, marching around the perimeter of our property then posting himself at the front gate, where he'd stand on guard until sunset. I loved watching him from the kitchen window, knowing how happy it made him to protect the home front and keep us safe.
But I think my favorite times with Jesse were the mornings.
First, I'd wake him up with a song:
I woke up this morning with an angel in my bed, he must have been trying to rest his precious head. He said, Could I bother you for something to eat, and I said, Yes, angels love something very sweet.
The corners of his mouth would curl into a smile, and then I'd kiss his cheek and start tickling him. A minute later he'd be fully awake and ready to rumble. "Let's wrestle!" he'd shout.
We'd roll on the bed wrestling, hugging, and tickling until one of us begged for mercy or it was time to start the day. One of my fondest morning memories is from a day last fall when our regular tickle session had gone on longer than usual.
"Okay, Jesse, we have to go, I have to leave for work ..."
My head was in Jesse's lap, and he started to stroke my forehead and hair.
"Mama ... Mama ... Mama ..." he whispered over and over again.
I looked up at him and thought, If I don't go now, I'm going to be late for work. But this moment is heaven; it's perfection. I want to be here and nowhere else. I never want it to end.
I was a little late that day.CHAPTER 2
My last morning with Jesse began like so many others; I woke him up with a song, kissed him until he giggled, and we wrestled until time tore us apart. Neil, Jesse's father, was picking Jesse up to take him to school that day, and Jesse was scheduled to spend the night at his dad's house. I wasn't going to see him until the next afternoon, when Neil and I would join him in his classroom to build gingerbread houses.
It was a bright, beautiful, sunny morning, but so cold that my car and everything else in the yard was coated with a layer of frost. I bundled Jesse into his coat and gloves, and we headed outside. While Jesse walked toward the car, I chatted with Neil to finalize our plans to meet at Jesse's school. Since we'd split, our relationship had been strained at times, but we did our best to get along for Jesse's sake.
When I turned to kiss Jesse good-bye, I saw him standing beside my car with an ear-to-ear grin. He'd written a note to me in the frost on the passenger-side window and door—I Love You. He'd etched little hearts all around the sweet words, and now he stood there smiling up at me.
"Wait there, Jesse, don't move!" I pleaded with him, and ran to get my camera. I was going to be late for work, but I simply had to get a photo! And I did—Jesse grinning in the blinding sunlight beside the love poem that would be his good-bye note to his mama.
I kissed his cheek and made sure his seat belt was fastened before Neil drove away with him.
The next day I awoke at dawn, as I always do, and I said my usual morning prayer before opening my eyes: "Thank you for my boys, Lord, and for our farm, for our health, for our family and friends ... and for us all being together ..."
As I began my day, I noticed how quiet the house was. When Jesse was gone, it was markedly more silent. His presence was so big and he was so loud, it was like living with a percussionist who never took a rest. That's why one of my favorite nicknames for him was Bingo Bango Bongo Drum; my other favorite was Sweet Boy of Joy, because that's what he was to me.
I began my daily morning routine, waiting with J.T. for his 6:30 a.m. school bus, then feeding the horses, chickens, and dogs. After the chores, I sat at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee and inspected a gift I'd recently received from a friend.
It was a twine necklace with an unusual silver cross made of diachronic glass flecked with green, blue, gold, and Jesse's favorite color—"turk boys" (turquoise). It was a bit too large and showy to go with the conservative business suit I wore to the office, and whenever I wore a cross it was always my grandmother's understated silver one. But the more I examined this one, the more I was struck by its beauty and by the special meaning it held coming to me at that particular moment in our lives.
Jesse, J.T., and I had just begun attending church together on a regular basis. The inspiration came on a Saturday evening after a family gathering where the boys' behavior had been unusually rowdy, unruly, and argumentative all day. We'd left the family event early, and when their ill-behaved attitudes continued in the car on the way home, I realized something had to change.
"You know, boys, we are having a hard time and we need something," I announced, watching them in the rearview mirror. "And do you know what that something is that we need? We need God. Tomorrow, we're going to church."
I'd attended church fairly regularly as a child, but as an adult my churchgoing had become sporadic even though my faith was strong. I taught my boys the tenets of the Golden Rule—always doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you. And we spent many evenings reading Bible stories together, particularly the Gospels that stressed the importance of practicing love, faith, charity, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. We'd made prayer a part of our lives and prayed often at home. But, as the boys got older, I felt there was still something missing in our spiritual lives.
So the very next morning we were sitting in a pew at Beacon Hill Evangelical Free Church, which had been recommended by my neighbor and friend Roberta. The boys grumbled a bit at first, but soon they looked forward to going. I remember in particular how excited Jesse had been after seeing a video about the life of Jesus in Sunday school—"He gave up his life to save everyone else?" Jesse asked, incredulous. He also loved reading about young King David's fight with the armored giant, Goliath.
"Mom ... even though he was smaller and only had a slingshot, David was able to defeat the giant and save his people because he was smarter and had faith!" Jesse said, excitedly. I smiled, wondering if Jesse would imagine himself as the brave young David the next time he pulled on his little "army" snow boots and helmet to guard our front gate.
So all of that was running through my mind as I sat in the kitchen examining my pretty new cross necklace. Yes, I thought. Not quite sure why, but today's your day. I slipped it around my neck and headed out to the office.
As I was driving to work, Neil was driving Jesse to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Although Neil and I had finalized the plans to meet at Jesse's classroom later that day, Jesse was worried about what was going to happen. He was certain that it wasn't going to work out, and he was uncharacteristically melancholy.
"Don't worry, Jess, Mom and I will be there," Neil said.
"No," Jesse answered, "it's not going to happen."
Neil was surprised by Jesse's reaction—it was an odd way for Jesse to talk. "Of course it is going to happen, Jess. It's all arranged."
"No," Jesse repeated, shaking his head. "It's not going to happen, Dad."
When they got to the school, Neil parked the car and walked with Jesse through the front doors and into the main hallway, where they hugged good-bye as usual.
"Dad?" Jesse said, putting his hands on Neil's shoulders as they came out of the hug. "I just want you to know ... it's going to be okay. And that I love you and Mom."
Then Jesse turned and walked away down the hall toward his first-grade classroom.
As Jesse was saying good-bye to his dad, I was just arriving at my office at the software communications company where I'd been working as an executive assistant to the CEO for almost a year. I'd acquired a bit of a reputation as the office Pollyanna because I'd papered my cubicle with empowering messages and inspirational quotes on Post-it notes. I'd been at my desk for about an hour when my colleague Tina sent me an instant message: did you hear about a shooting at a school in newtown?
The message startled me, but I remained calm. Even if the report were true, what were the odds that of all the schools in Newtown, something like that would happen at Jesse's or J.T.'s? I'd begun to IM Tina back when my phone rang.
"Scarlett?" It was my friend and neighbor Diane, and she sounded worried. "Did you hear that a teacher got shot in the foot at Jesse's school?"
A second later, every electronic device around me was ringing, beeping, or vibrating, delivering a barrage of phone calls, texts, e-mails, and IMs from family, friends, and colleagues. Everybody was either asking me what was going on or giving me fragments of information they'd heard. It was too much for my brain to assemble, but it seemed clear that there had been a shooting, and it had definitely happened at Sandy Hook Elementary ... Jesse's school!
I took a deep breath and told myself to stay calm. There'd been a false report about a school shooting in town before; maybe this was another one of those.
Excerpted from NURTURING HEALING LOVE by Scarlett Lewis, Natasha Stoynoff. Copyright © 2013 Scarlett Lewis. Excerpted by permission of HAY HOUSE, INC..
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