imageWhen we get to a certain age we are told that the trappings of youth are nothing more than fantasy.  The belief in magic, fairies, monsters and Super heroes – things every child believes in at some point, ebb away with the steady flow of reality each passing year.  As we approach adulthood those innocent beliefs of childhood are replaced with the acceptance that “The real world” contains none of these things.  Magic:  merely an illusion.  Fairies: mythical creatures conjured by the human imagination – and existing only there.  Monsters: the only “real” ones are labels we place on the most abhorrent of humans.  Super heroes:  Colorful characters who wear their underwear on the outside who possess powers that are physically unattainable.  All of these things represent our desire for something more from a world that seems to take more than it gives as we age.  The older we get, the more we realize that reality can be rather mundane and dull  when compared to the future our innocent, youthful, selves imagined.

I remember a conversation I had with one of my cousins when I was about 8 or 9 years old, talking about Super Heroes.  I was on the precipice of the age in which I began to realize that they could not exist.  We talked, at length, over the improbability that a “real”  Super Hero could ever exist… yet through all of this, in brazen defiance of what I my 8 year old self knew to be true, I told her that I thought one day I was going to be a real life super hero.  I was convinced that somehow, some way, I would find a way to bend the laws of physics and I would become a Super hero that would change the world.  My 8 year old self truly believed that this was going to happen; to hell with reality!  I find it odd that I remember that conversation so vividly, yet here  I am, 30 years later, and I can still see my cousin laying next to me listening to me and agreeing with me.  I think the reason I remember it so well is because I never stopped believing it was possible…

I remember standing in the waiting room of the ER when the ambulance brought Rees in.  I was alone, pacing like an animal, waiting for Samantha to arrive.  The room felt like a prison that confined me within the walls of a nightmare from which I could not escape.  I remember thinking to myself that perhaps this was that moment… this was the time where I could break those laws and defy the space time continuum and reverse my chronological course.  I truly believed that if I concentrated hard enough I could will time itself to retreat and give myself the opportunity to save my little Rees.  I vividly recall tightening my face into a grimace and balling my fists so much that I could feel the blood rushing through my head.  I hoped, beyond reason, that the energy I released would tear the fabric of reality and restore my little boy.  If ever there was a time I could be a Super Hero, it was at that moment, at that time.  I screamed to muster as much “power” as I could and opened my eyes; hoping to find myself back in my driveway with a chance to tell my friend “I’ll watch him”… only to find myself still trapped in that room with the walls drawing ever closer.  All hope was gone.  My little boy wasn’t the only person to die that day, as my failure confirmed the death of the dreams of my 8 year old self.  I was human after all.  No miracles.  No magic.  No waking up from this nightmare.  Super heroes do not exist – they can’t, because if they did my little boy would be in my arms, alive and well.  Rees’ death killed my last vestige of childhood.  Wonder, hope, belief – all three, died with my little boy.  As coroner of my 8 year old self, and I must admit, I thoroughly examined it , and he was not only merely dead, he was really most sincerely dead. (Sorry, I needed a little levity here – apologies to L. Frank Baum)  With the coroners assessment I was sure that super heroes did not exist, and my world diminished that much more.

My world remains diminished, and always will to some degree due to the loss of Rees, but something happened tonight that resurrected my 8 year old self…  Tonight I saw the essence of my little boy displayed on a vehicle that would have made him jump with glee.  Rees is gone, yet his presence was tangible.  Looking at that truck, adorned with a symbol that represents what ReesSpecht Life is all about, put me in awe of the power of the human soul.  What I, and thousands of others witnessed, was an incredible display of kindness to a little boy none of the brave men and women of the Nesconset fire department ever met yet somehow he touched from beyond the void of death.  In fact, everyone who saw that truck pass tonight was touched, in some small way, by my little Richie.  The “R” on that truck was testament to the power of kindness that continues to permeate outwards from Rees’ spirit beyond corporeal plane.  The acts of kindness that Rees is inspiring can only be labeled as something super.  My little super-boy is an inspiration from beyond the grave – and if that is not the power of a super hero, I do not know what is.

I received a message tonight from a former student who called my wife and I an “inspiration”.  I told him that real inspiration comes from within… we all have it locked within us.  All we need is a key to unlock it.  My little boy was my key, and now, thanks to the selflessness of others, he can be for many, many others.  I can forgive my 8 year old self for thinking it was me that was going to grow up to be a super hero.  It turns out the real super hero was another Richie Specht who, through the super-powers of selflessness and kindness,  is changing the world in ways I could never have imagined while trapped in that ER prison.  There is nothing inspirational in what my wife and I are doing.  It turns out we are only the first pieces of a much larger key forged by a real super boy.  Super Heroes do exist.  I saw the proof tonight.  If you want to see his “powers”, just look at all the kindness his spirit is spreading and how he is changing this world one Rees’ piece at a time…

A Superboy...

A Superboy…

photo (2) There was a time when I was Santa Claus – or at least I played him,  for six years…  Back when I was in High School I was approached by my manager at the local drugstore I worked at and was asked to play Santa.  At first I thought it was insulting, thinking that my pudgy frame was her reasoning for asking me.  I remember thinking that I did not want to do it, after all how can someone who is only 17 and a Junior in High School pull off being Santa?  After mulling it over for about a day, I told my manager that I would do it and she was elated.  She immediately took me to the storage area and showed me the costume…  It looked exactly like what you would think a local drugstore’s 20 year old, bottom of the line, made in China Santa suit would look like.  I was taken aback when I saw it and told her there was no way I could do it.  The costume consisted of a felt red “jacket”, pants and a  black vinyl belt held together with staples and scotch tape.  The beard was literally made out of cotton, and had brown stains around the mouth from where the previous “Santa” had apparently enjoyed one of many smoke breaks.  The wig was made of the same cotton-like material and had the stains of 20 years worth of perspiration inside  it.  To say this costume was terrible was an understatement, but it was all I had to work with so I went with it.

I remember putting on the costume for the first time and walking out of the store room and entering the store.  I bellowed the heartiest and happiest “Ho Ho Ho’s” that I could – trying to mask my young voice with guttural growl that made me sound more like Batman than Santa.  I recall walking around and having people laugh at me due to the ridiculousness of the cheap costume.  At the same time I also recall parents commenting on my dedication to bellow out those hearty Ho Ho Ho’s and give it my best.  After some time I really started to get into the role and refined my “Santa Voice”, trading the growl for a trembling vibrato that seemed to hit the mark and matched my hearty Ho Ho Ho’s.  For the two days that I played him, I was Santa and I loved it – and so did everyone else.

My manager got so many positive comments about my Santa that she asked me to promise to do it again the next year, and I happily obliged – with some conditions.  Being the diva that I now was, I demanded upgrades to Santa’s suit, claiming that it would only help.  She told me the budget did not allow it, but she would see what she could do.  Some days later she told me that central office had agreed to get me a new wig and beard, but that was it.  I still had to deal with the costume.  The next christmas came and I played Santa again – this time a bit more convincingly with a beard and wig that was more like hair and less like the end of a cotton swab.  I continued to play Santa over the next few years, with each year finding the store making more improvements to the suit until it became the perfect suit.  Armed with a new suit, I really took hold of the role and I would walk up and down the strip mall and out to the road in front of our store and “let loose”.

I looked forward to playing Santa every year and it just felt so good to be dressed as someone that everyone loved.  The smiles I saw on children’s faces made the stifling heat of the costume easy to bear.  The gratitude from thankful Mom’s and Dad’s who appreciated my enthusiasm fueled me desire to be the best Santa I could be.  It was great, but the inevitable time where I had to hang up my Santa suit came two years after college when I started teaching.  I remember going back to the store that first year and seeing the “New” Santa and I was so upset.  Gone were the Ho Ho Ho’s from my iteration, replaced with unenthusiastic “Happy Holiday’s” and not much more.  It was disheartening to see the legacy I had built get torn down and thrown to the side.  I felt bad for the children who were expecting to see the Santa that was there for six years and were greeted instead with a seemingly soul-less Mecha-Santa.  I figured that would be the last time I ever played Santa and resigned myself to accepting that there are some things I just cannot control.  Oh well, I’ll never be Santa again, I thought, it was a good run.

993436_399900393476472_461191970_nIt turns out I was wrong.  I did get to play Santa again, but in a way that my 23 year old self would never have imagined…  Three months ago Samantha asked me if we could do something that would mark Rees’ third birthday and also do something for others.  Since we did not have Rees to shower with toys and playthings, she rationed that it would be great if we got some toys to donate to a local charity that needed them.  She asked around and found the Family Services League and was excited about the prospect of trying to help them with their annual “Project Toy”, toy drive.  She explained to me that we would collect some toys and give them to the league and that on Rees’ birthday we would help out with the distribution to the families who were in need of a little Christmas help.  Sam asked me to make up flyers, and I did, using our new logo I placed a sleigh with toys behind it and thus our Toy drive had an official image.

I never could have imagined the success we would have in this drive.  What started out as a simple request for people to donate toys at 1 of 2 locations quickly grew into three times as many drop off spots and multiple other “mini drops”.  When all was said and done, our “few” toys burgeoned into the thousands and we literally did not have enough space in our cars to deliver the toys…  (Santa’s magic bag would have been a big help!).  Needless to say, we got the help we needed and delivered the literal mound of toys three nights before the distribution and I was in awe of what the collective kindness of people.  I literally saw what the collective acts of individuals could do when we all work together towards a common goal and it was both inspiring and amazingly rewarding.  Every toy that was donated from ReesSpecht Life was donated because of the legacy of kindness of our little boy.  It is clear that Rees’ pieces are a force of good that will hopefully continue to grow and do more and more collective good.  It is clear that we are all making a difference, one little piece at a time.

1490793_10152138256011419_421270669_o1531767_10152138250691419_257125019_oTonight found me in a different position than three nights ago.  We were asked by the family service league to come and see how their toy distribution works – and we thought that Rees’ birthday was the ideal time to do it.  What better way to help us focus on the positive than to directly see the results of the kindness performed in his name?  While we were not there for long, I was in awe of the feeling of compassion and respect that permeated the family service league “Toyland” tonight.  Parents from all walks of life, who found themselves in the unfortunate position of not being able to provide their children now had the opportunity to provide a christmas for their children through the selflessness of strangers that they will never know or meet.  I saw first hand the grateful smiles of parents who reveled in finding that perfect gift that would make their children’s eyes light up with a sense of holiday wonder.  It was at that moment, in that singular place in time, that I realized that I only played Santa for those six years.  Tonight was my first time being “Santa” for real, and the feeling I derived from it is indescribable.  I watched my two daughters help the shopping parents find the perfect toys and I was in awe of their willingness to help others – and I reveled in thought that Rees was present, smiling down on all of us in that room.

We were told that the donation of toys we made was one of the largest, if not the largest, single donations they had ever received.  More importantly, I was told that because of the contribution of ReesSpecht Life, the family service league of Brookhaven would be able to get toys to all 1150 families in need plus all of the families on the stand by list.  On a night that could have been much more difficult and sad, I was able to revel in the kindness of strangers and happiness of those whose holiday dreams had been salvaged.  Instead of lamenting the loss of my little boy and grieving about his absence on what should have been his very happy 3rd birthday, I got to see what Santa see’s when he stealthily places those presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas eve.  I saw, in my mind’s eye, at least a thousand children’s smiles on Christmas morning – and one very special little boy looking down on them, smiling himself, knowing that he helped them in his own way.  Happy Birthday, and Merry Christmas little man.  You helped me be Santa again, only this time for real.  I love you more than words can express… keep cultivating that kindness from above.  You are making this world a better place, one little piece at a time.

1519070_10152138250686419_1563007052_o

993436_399900393476472_461191970_nSanta’s elves have nothing on Rees’ pieces.  Tonight we dropped off hundreds and hundreds of toys to the Family Services League and filled up a room with toys that will make the Christmas of children who would have gone without this holiday season.  December 19th would have been Rees’ 3rd birthday, and many of the toys we delivered would have made his eyes light up with glee if he were here to see them.  The pain of not having our little boy with us, at what should be the happiest time of year,  is mitigated by the fact we know there will be so many smiles on all of the children who received toys because of the generosity of Rees’ pieces.  I am in awe of what the human spirit can accomplish, and I know that this world is filled with good and kind people; some just waiting for their chance to spread kindness to others.

Last year around this time I vowed that my son’s memory would help make this world a better place, one piece at time.  Every person who donated a toy, no matter how big or small, is affirming that vow I made.  I wish heaven had a direct line so that I could tell my little man how much I love him and miss him.  I wish I would have had the opportunity to see his eyes light up upon seeing his Christmas toys under the tree.  The hardest part of losing him is losing the things I never had, but dreamed would come.  Those dreams are no more, but his spirit remains.  Every child that opens a present this Christmas morning will have that light in their eye that I am sure Rees will see from heaven above.  My world was made a little more whole tonight – and it was done piece by piece.  Thank you all – this journey has only just begun and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.  The Holiday spirit is alive and well, helped along with a little Rees Specht for life…

photo 1photo 2photo