A Promising Conversation of Hope

September 17, 2016

The other night, at my request, my friend Diane graciously hosted a casual get together in her home. There were four moms and one dad there, as well as one university student and one high school student. The goal of the evening was to have an an informal dialogue and build awareness about Sandy Hook Promise's mission and no-cost violence prevention programs. Meaningful conversations like ours were happening all over the country this week as Promise Leaders talked to people in their communities about overcoming feelings of helplessness when it comes to preventing gun violence. We were all talking about hope.

I began the evening with the story of how I became involved with Sandy Hook Promise:

Up until a year ago, I hadn't heard of Sandy Hook Promise. I had, of course, heard about the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. That event was life-changing for me. I didn't know any of the innocent victims or their families. No, but it shook me to the core because when I heard about that troubled, 20-year-old young man, armed with multiple weapons, entering an elementary school building and taking the lives of 20 first graders and 6 adult employees before turning the gun on himself, I had to face a hard reality: that shooter, that troubled 20-year-old young man reminded me of my own son.

Until that day in 2012, I had shielded myself from the truth. I couldn't possibly fathom the idea that my first born child was that troubled. Because if I'd faced that thought, I would have also had to admit that I had failed him.

My son spiraled into mental illness after graduating high school and despite my attempts at getting him to seek treatment, he walked out my front door on December 31, 2010, refusing to admit he needed help. So when that shooting happened in December 2012, and I learned about the shooter's past, I couldn't deny reality any longer.

Days after the Sandy Hook shooting, I began to write a blog. I began to tell my story. My son's story. Our family's story. 

Fast-forward three years. A lot had changed in our family's story, but not much had changed in our country's. In our family's story, my son had struggled with unemployment, homelessness, addiction, and criminal activity. Eventually, he ended up behind bars, sentenced to a mandatory minimum of three years. In our country's story, unfortunately, not much had changed when it came to mass shootings. Though America was hopeful that the Sandy Hook tragedy would at least lead to better gun laws, mass shootings were still happening frequently and Americans were becoming numb to the nightly news stories of innocent lives lost and families forever broken.

On August 26, 2015, Allison Parker, a TV news reporter and her cameraman, Adam Ward, were shot and killed on live television. Andy Parker, Allison's father, swore on national TV that he would do "whatever it takes" to end gun violence. I offered my condolences to Mr. Parker in an open letter. to him I posted on my blog. I echoed his commitment to ending gun violence, but I also noted that our country's problem wasn't just about guns. It was about mental health. And it was about stigma. And it was about health care. It wasn't just about access to weapons.

Mr. Parker never responded to my letter. But Nicole Hockley did.

Nicole is the mother of Dylan Hockley, one of the 20 first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Nicole had read my open letter to Mr. Parker on my blog. And I believe she also scrolled back and read through entries I'd written spanning all the way to December 2012. She must have read the first post, the one where I talked about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary and compared myself to the mother of the shooter. Despite that, Nicole reached out to me and wanted to talk, mother to mother.

She thanked me for writing my blog and sharing it with the world. And, this mother who'd lost her six-year-old child to a senseless act of gun violence, had the incredible grace to express her sympathy to me because I was another grieving mother. Though I hadn't lost my son by death, I had most certainly lost my son.

Nicole told me she believed we shared the same goals, the same viewpoints. She said she thought we should work together somehow. She told me about an organization she had co-founded called Sandy Hook Promise.

And now, here I am tonight, a year later, telling you about this incredible organization and its mission to prevent preventable acts of violence so no one else has to suffer such senseless loss.

Our hopeful conversation continued with a short video featuring Promise Leaders in action. Then we turned to specific details about Sandy Hook Promise's programs. Each of Diane's guests shared their concerns about gun violence in our community and across our country. We discussed the climates of local schools and universities, and the two student guests spoke up, as well. The high schooler shared examples of witnesses social isolation first-hand, while the university student told us her plans to start a Students Against Gun Violence club on campus. The parent-guests asked me questions about how they can bring SHP to their children's schools and what other measures they could take to become involved with Sandy Hook Promise.

Despite my emotional exhaustion, I felt myself smiling as I got into my car to head home. The promise of hope just does that to me.

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