“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.” — A.A. Milne (author of Winnie the Pooh)
Nicole Hockley knows things. She knows what it feels like to see one’s 6-year old child in his casket. She knows what it feels like to hold a boy’s destroyed clothing from the morning he was gunned down in his classroom.
She understands silence, when one son is playing alone in the home where two brothers used to laugh and play together.
No parent wants to know these things. So it would be understandable if Hockley, whose son Dylan was murdered, retreated into the depths of her loss. But instead, on a chilly Seattle night last week some 3,000 miles from home, Hockley spoke to an intimate crowd of strangers. Two dozen Washingtonians of varying ages gathered to hear firsthand what happened in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
“Others say to me all the time, 'I can’t imagine,'" Hockley said. "I say, 'You must imagine. You must really look at us. Feel our pain, and allow that pain to transform you. We are just like you.'"
Hockley is one of five parents who now spend many weeks each year on behalf of Sandy Hook Promise traveling the country, working hard to rise above politics to reason with people of all stripes. "We need to stop fighting and focus on winning, [and instead] focus on our common bond, which is our love of our children," she said.
Hockley’s message is at once devastating and motivating. Which is why Washington CeaseFire invited Hockley to Seattle to talk to people who are passionate not just about gun legislation but about changing our nation’s conversation and ultimately culture around gun violence. She wants those 26 Sandy Hook victims "to be remembered as the ones that finally woke up America."
Gun violence takes a devastating toll on our children. On average eight children and teens under the age of 20 years old die each day by gun violence, according to numbers compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We are not a more aggressive or violent country than other countries," Ralph Fascitelli, WA CeaseFire president, said. But "we are a more lethal country."
CeaseFire, along with other partners including ParentMap, will kick off later this month a campaign called ASK Washington. The campaign will encourage parents to ask about the presence of guns in the homes of families where their children are playing. Some 40% of American homes with children have a gun. If a home does have a gun, the ASK campaign encourages parents to find out if the guns are safely stored, unloaded and locked, ideally in a gun safe, because simply hiding guns in not enough.
And along with Moms Demand Action for Gun Violence, WA CeaseFire will call on Washington state lawmakers to step up and take up Initiative 594’s call for stricter background checks on gun sales and transfers, rather than deferring decision-making to voters in the November election.
In her group talk, Hockley did not volunteer her thoughts on legislative setbacks. But asked afterward about efforts to loosen restrictions on gun ownership, she conceded frustration. The most poignant setback: The U.S. Senate’s defeat last April of a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun purchases, marking the end of a four-month national debate about how to stem the tide of gun deaths in the U.S.
"Some of us [Sandy Hook parents] were in the White House rose garden when that failed. Well … that sucked," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "But the next day was a new day. I told myself that this will work out for the better, that this setback will actually make our efforts stronger."
In chaos theory, there is a concept known as the Butterfly Effect, the theoretical example being a butterfly’s flap in one part of the world creating a hurricane across the globe. Like some other autistic children, Dylan Hockley liked to flap his arms. One time his mother asked him what he was doing. He answered that he was a butterfly about to take flight.
To Nicole Hockley, her son and the 25 others who died at school that horrific winter day are those butterflies. They are creating a metamorphosis, a change far beyond their own community.
"It’s not a matter of if, but when," Hockley said. "Something beautiful will come from this violence."