My son often complains that he can hear my footsteps throughout the house when he’s trying to sleep. He says it sounds like I’m running. ‘Why don’t you slow down,’ he asks. When I think about it I guess I am rushing around to do this and do that, get things accomplished, and finish tasks. In fact, I take pride in my productivity, sometimes patting myself on the back at what I have accomplished by 9:00 a.m.! After my youngest son Jesse died, I started a foundation and began to travel almost nonstop, all over the world, spreading his chalkboard message of ‘nurturing healing love.’ It fit in with my go-getter mentality and high energy while also helping children all over the world.
Children need to be kept safe and I don’t want to stop for even a moment in my quest. I vowed to not rest until the kindergarteners starting the Choose Love program graduated from high school. Before the program was released, an educator in North Carolina used my book as curriculum for her fourth grade class and created her own Choose Love lessons using each chapter as a guide. She would send me the lesson as well as the students’ comments after teaching it in her classroom. I mailed her green rubber bracelets with the formula on them to pass out to her students when they completed the last chapter. In return, she sent me a beautiful picture of their little hands in a circle, all wearing the bracelets. I saw my vision, and all my tireless efforts, starting to become a reality.
I liken this story to where we are now with COVID. We were all so busy before. People barely had time to breathe, racing here and there, working endless hours, bringing children to daycare, fitting in workouts, trying to make time for friends, etc. Despite all that we have to accomplish in a day, or in my case years, we need to recognize the importance of consistently stepping back and evaluating our lives and see what we’re doing, what we’re missing out on, and how we can still be productive but also find an even balance.
When Jesse was murdered I remember sitting on the couch for the first time in forever thinking, Wow, I’m actually sitting still and there is nothing that seems that important. It enabled me to consider, ponder, reflect, and respond to the tragedy with a sense of love, healing, and nurturing. Perhaps we can see COVID as an opportunity to be still. We get to be present with our families, and to also offer ourselves some much-needed self-care if we take the time to stop for a moment. I admit, I still have to continually remind myself that I can take a step back from work to refresh, reflect, and re-energize myself. That’s my theme for this year. When I started the Choose Love Movement I wanted everything to be finished now! I realized, however, that things happen when they’re supposed to and that patience truly is a virtue. I have learned to slow down and enjoy the journey and I’ve found miracles along the way!
This brings my thoughts to The Starfish from Africa, a new book written by Bill Lavin, a retired New Jersey firefighter, that we will be reading for the Choose Love Book Club. The book tells the story of an extraordinary divinely-guided journey that led Lavin to build 26 playgrounds in the tri-state area, one for each of the victims of Sandy Hook, including Jesse’s at West Beach in Stamford, CT, to the Republic of Rwanda in honor of those who reached out to my older son, JT, following the tragedy to also build a playground for children in the town of Kibeho. While there, Lavin met a young man, Yannick Kabuguza, who lost his family in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide whose face had been left with a tremendous unhealed wound from when he was three years old. Lavin was able to bring this young man to America, find surgeons willing to perform at no cost, and help him create a new life he had never even dreamed of. This young man described his healing in broken English as, “slow by slow.” It might have taken years for him to get the surgery he yearned for, but he waited patiently and respected the value of time. I know his words can’t help but reverberate with so many people who are finally seeing the value of putting a stop to their incessant rushing to get things done and being caught up in the hustle-and-bustle of life.
This year my goal is to be present and to enjoy and appreciate what is right in front of me, and most importantly, to honor myself and my health by taking things “slow by slow.” I will also work on forgiving those who have hurt me and I will continue to step outside myself to help others, but still find time to take a breath and appreciate my family, friends, and of course, the children of the world. This is where I have found meaning and purpose in my life. There are those that feel sorry for me because of the unthinkable tragedy I’ve endured from the preventable murder of my son but I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, the personal growth I’ve experienced, and the people I’ve met through this journey who have blessed my life, as well. Please join me this year in having the courage to slow down your pace of life, to continually find joy in the here-and-now, and to focus on what you have. By doing this, you are Choosing Love and you will receive the best life has to offer.