I have known Benjamin Wheeler’s mom, Francine, for over twenty-five years. I was her maid of honor. Before that, her roommate. And before that… what else? We were waitresses together at a Jersey Shore ice cream parlor. Singing waitresses.
Yup. We sang. About ice cream.
I’ve known Benjamin’s father– David Wheeler– for about fifteen years. When David had to cancel his first date with Francine at the last minute, I remember telling her, “Come on, Fran. Don’t write him off. Give this guy a chance.” At the time, we were both single, 30-something, cynical New York City gals, so our bullshit meters were stuck in hyper-vigilant mode when it came to getting stood up. Don’t get me wrong– I was suspicious, too. But I had a gut feeling about this one.
Thank G-d she did give him a chance. He’s one of the good ones.
They’ve built a strong marriage that’s allowed me to know them in a different way– as a married couple. A married couple with a couple of kids.
With a kid.
I’ve known them for a long time. At least I thought I knew them. Since December 14th, I realize that I’d only scratched the surface.
This week, Francine talked about following her gut when she and David decided, after a month of remaining nearly invisible to the press, to speak out. On MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow show. You can see Rachel Maddow’s riveting interview with Francine and David Wheeler in it’s entirety here: Parents of Sandy Hook victim: ‘Don’t stop thinking about this’ — MSNBC.
Since the tragic events in December of 2012, I am so proud of, and inspired by, my dear friends Francine Lobis Wheeler and David Wheeler for the dedication they’ve shown to parenting both their sons, Benjamin and Nate, the dedication they’ve shown to the future of our country’s children, and to our country PERIOD.
To anyone who feels compelled to get on a stump and speak about gun rights and the second amendment I say go for it. Really. Do it. And be GRATEFUL you can do it. That’s your right as an American. But before you get on that stump, picture Francine and David and their amazing son Nate (who survived that day) standing before you, armed with nothing but a framed photo of Ben. Maybe the three of them are about twenty paces in front of you. Just standing there. No agenda. Picture it now. And as you look them in the eyes, alone, in a quiet, empty room (no cameras, no microphones being clipped onto your lapels or shoved into your faces, no screaming pundits on either side of the aisle) I ask you, humbly, to open your mouth and speak from the heart about your rights. I want you to speak freely, secure in the knowledge that the brains inside your head and the muscles inside your mouth paying homage to our second amendment are protected by another amendment- the first one; the amendment of free speech. Open your mouth to express that speech freely. But BEFORE you speak, allow yourself to be UN-armed for a moment. Let yourself be totally defense-LESS for a moment. Not against bullets, but against hearts. Against THREE hearts. Francine’s, and David’s, and Nate’s. And against the heart that’s NOT in the room- Ben’s. Against the twenty-five other hearts not in the room. That cannot speak. Not freely. Not at all. Will your heart survive that duel? Survive those odds? With hearts like those of Sandy Hook’s survivors walking around our streets, we better make sure EVERYONE has their hearts with them. Just in case. Luckily, we don’t need licenses or background checks for our hearts. They have unlimited ammunition, amazing accuracy at vast distances, and are easy to operate. We never have to worry about our kids accidentally getting their hands on our hearts if we forget to lock them away.
But back to our scene– It’s just you. And them- the Wheeler family. No one else. Each of you (Fran, David, little Nate, and you). You’re all equally UN-armed, and about twenty-six paces apart.
“Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to back away slowly and put your hands upon your heart. You’re surrounded.”
We CAN speak.
And when we speak, let us speak with our hearts, and leave the ammunition in the guns. Let’s curb our well-intended passions that often compel us to use our freedom of speech as a weapon. There are enough of those already.
We love you, Ben. And we will not forget. Your Mommy and Daddy are going to see to that. They are protecting you. With every breath.
To learn what you CAN do to help keep a productive, loving, peaceful dialogue going about protecting our children, and preserving the memory of the lives lost at Sandy Hook, go to: http://www.sandyhookpromise.org
If you’d like to write a message directly to the family, you can go to the facebook page that’s been set up in Ben’s memory: