The Chaplain's Corner - August 2013

Copyright 2013 by Pastor Gary Cortese, Chaplain - Byron Fire Protection District

I recently had the privilege of visiting the community of Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I stopped by the Sandy Hook Main Fire Station and spoke with some folks who were directly connected to the tragic events that took place there on Friday, December 14 of last year. It was obvious that the wounds are still fresh and real.


As our nation and the world watched in horror and disbelief, many hearts and lives were forever broken. In the days, weeks and months that followed, Law Enforcement, Fire and EMS, Legislators, Mental Health Professionals and the Religious communities all responded in ways that they knew how in an effort to help Sandy Hook move into the future.


Life goes on; it must. However, life will be very different. It has to be in order to heal the wounded and broken, as well as to help prevent evil from manifesting like this again.


While visiting, my family and I worshipped at a church just 15 minutes from Sandy Hook. This same church conducted a memorial service for 6-year old Jesse Lewis, one of the heroes who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School. In fact, 26 memorial services and 1 funeral were held throughout the state. Twenty-six lives were celebrated, remembered and honored for heroism. One body was buried and will forever be known as a host for evil.


There are 27 stories to tell and just as many lessons to learn, but I am devoting this month’s Chaplain’s Corner to one simple message for those who have been touched by evil – and that is this: love is stronger than hate, that even the smallest of lights is capable of pushing back darkness, that good will always triumph over evil.


I cannot speak about the intimate details of all the victims, but I am able to share the story of one, Jesse Lewis.


The morning of December 14, 2012 started out like any other winter morning in New England, with the exception that, Jesse Lewis wrote something (unbeknown to his mother) on the chalkboard in the breezeway of his home at some time that morning before leaving for school: Nourishing Love and Joy (the word nourishing was misspelled). Before getting into his father’s car, Jesse also wrote something else on the frost-covered window of his mother’s car: I Love You Mom, inside a heart. His mom yelled out for him to pose by the car so she could take a picture of Jesse next to the heart before heading off to school with his dad.


As Jesse got out of the car he spoke the last words his father would ever hear him say this side of heaven: “Don’t worry, Dad, everything’s gonna be ok.”


Jesse Lewis was trying to get some of his classmates out of the school building and away from harm when his life was taken. His mother would later find the message on the chalkboard: Nourishing Love and Joy.


State Troopers, Police Officers, Firefighters and Paramedics stood at attention at the memorial service in Monroe, Connecticut for 6-year old hero, Jesse Lewis, where these intimate details were shared as a message of hope and strength.


Jesse’s mom also graciously shared these two important thoughts: First, that she had felt the need to go to church prior to December 14 and second, that her son, Jesse Lewis, was a blessing she would only get to briefly enjoy on this earth.


The pain is real and the loss profound, but the solution and the response is just as real. Bracelets are being worn as a reminder and in tribute to the victims. A very dear friend of Jesse Lewis’ family took her own bracelets off and gave them to my wife, in an endearing moment for both women that connected these two mothers in a way that only moms can be. The bracelets simply say: JESSE LEWIS. CHOOSE LOVE. LOVE NEVER ENDS. The bracelets haven’t been removed since; a reminder that the light of love will be kept burning here in Illinois.


Evil will manifest again and again. Despite our best efforts mortal man cannot stop hell from visiting, but we can be prepared; protect ourselves and our neighbors, and we can minimize the effects. Most importantly of all, we overcome and prevail. The key is are we “nourishing love and joy”? A simple, yet vital, message given to us all by a light that glowed for six short years but will brightly burn for the rest of time. When it comes right down to it, these are the only two forces you really need to rise above any pain or grief.


Folks, as a Chaplain and Pastor, I cannot overemphasize the need for you to live and enjoy every single day of your life – for each day is a gift. One day that gift, and the special people who make life worth living, will be gone. We cannot live in fear, nor can we move forward by driving in reverse, but we must be vigilant and relentless in our pursuit of that which is good and right.


On the front of the Sandy Hook Main Fire Station there’s a plaque with 26 stars and the names of the victims, as well as 26 stars on the roof of the firehouse. The light of a star can be seen long after that star has “burned out.”


May these stars be a reminder for everyone everywhere that light will always prevail over darkness.