I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Shelley (1818)

 

If there is anything that those of you who read our blog or follow our facebook page have hopefully noticed is that I am a positive person.  My positivity remains a defining characteristic, despite the events that took my little boy from our world.  It is certainly more difficult to remain positive under such circumstances, and nearly impossible to do it alone.  Thankfully, my family and I never found ourselves in a position where solitude was forced upon us.  It was the kindness of others that lifted us out of our despair and restored us.  The generous acts of people both familiar and strange helped bridge the gap between hope and despair.  It was these acts, both big and small, that opened my eyes to the power of human kindness and its ability to lift the spirit from deepest depths.  It was these acts, not the tragedy itself, not the tragedy of losing Rees, that lead to the creation of ReesSpecht Life.

ReesSpecht Life started with Bill Kelly of Kelly Brother’s Landscaping standing at my door asking if there was anything he could do to help… and help he did.  Not only did the Kelly Brothers take our drab yard and beautify it in a way I could never have on my own, they removed the one reminder of that awful moment.  They would not take any money.  They would not allow me to put up a sign advertising their work.  They did it because they could and that is the essence of kindness.

ReesSpecht Life started with a colleague named Michelle who came over the next morning with a lasagna.  She never saw me, but I heard her.  I knew she was there, I just could not face anyone at the time.  She did it because she could and she knew it would help feed us when we were unable to do so ourselves.

ReesSpecht Life started with my family who found a way to travel around a superstorm to be at my side when I needed them the most.  They did it because they could and they knew I needed their love.

ReesSpecht Life started when my Aunt Barbara, who lost so much in her life including her own young son and her husband, showed up at my side to hold my hand and tell me that it will get better, but maintained a necessary honesty with me about how it would impact my life.  My Aunt did that because she could and she knew what I was going through.

ReesSpecht Life literally started when my friend Brian from work heard me speak at Rees’ memorial and was inspired by my words and apparent “strength”.  Brian gave me the idea (and the name) for a foundation based on a play on Rees’ name and the words I spoke that night.  Brian said that to me because he could and he knew it would give me something to work for in my son’s memory.

ReesSpecht Life started when my High School Choral teacher, Mrs. Linda Contino, came to sing at Rees’ memorial.  A woman with whom I held in the deepest respect and admiration took the time to do what she knew would help heal my soul, even though I had not seen her in almost 20 years.  She did this because she could and she knew her music would lift our souls closer to Rees at that moment.

ReesSpecht Life started when countless numbers of my former students, friends, colleagues and even strangers braved power outages and gas shortages to flood the funeral home and block traffic on route 25a to honor Rees.  They all did this because they could and they knew their presence would remind us of how much they care.

ReesSpecht Life started the night I awoke with yet another night terror (I suffered from them for years) about nebulous creatures coming to take me because I did not do what I was supposed to do…  yet this one was different: This night terror had me reaching at the ceiling above me for Rees’ spirit who told me that I knew what had to be done and to get started.  I have not had a night terror since that night.  I believe that Rees’ spirit reached out to me because he could and he knew what I supposed to do all along…

All of these things, and really so much more, are what started ReesSpecht Life.  ReesSpecht life was not born out of the tragedy of child loss, it was born out of the spirit of human goodness and kindness.  All I want to do is spread that kindness.  I am obsessed with it.  It literally occupies my thoughts nearly every moment I am awake.  The “pay it forward” cards are a direct result of this obsession and it feeds directly into my scientific mind as it represents something that I quantify.  40,000 cards – each representing a potential act of kindness…  that just blows my mind.  Every act of kindness from those cards can trace its genesis to those acts that started this in the first place.  When I get down at night, I think to those cards, and the people they have touched and I smile.  I smile because I know that the spirit of my little boy has touched these people and their lives were made better, however slightly, by the fact his spirit endures.

Nighttime is the hardest for me.  It is when I find myself alone with my thoughts and invariably memories of Rees pop into my head.  Sometimes I smile and other times I cry most times I do both.   Regardless, nearly every night finds me in the same place: sad at the loss of my little man and happy at all the kindness spreading in his name.  It is in those times that I begin to fear that one day the movement, like all things, will fade away and die and it will all be for naught.  It is in those times that I tell myself that I need to live in the present and be happy for what we have done and just hope that we can continue to do more.  Almost every night ends like that for me, except for last night.

Just before I went to bed last night the illustrator for our children’s book, the amazing Adam Smith, sent me over 15 of the completed illustrated pages of the book.  When I opened the book and saw the finished product I was awestruck.  Adam managed to capture the images I had in my head and place them on the pages I was looking at.  More importantly, he captured Rees’ spirit in his illustrations in a way that made him feel alive to me.  My story, written from the heart and staring Rees, came to brilliant life and I cried the happiest tears of my life.  In front of me was the legacy of everything I was trying to accomplish with ReesSpecht Life.  I was witnessing the spirit of Rees and his message of kindness come to life in front of my eyes.  It was in that moment that I realized that one day all of the “Likes” on facebook would be no more, entropy will tear apart every ReesSpecht life card and the money from all of the scholarships will eventually be spent.  All of those things will eventually disappear, but the book and it’s art will live on long after.  It was in that moment that I realized that my dual goal of establishing my son’s legacy and spreading kindness in his name will go on long after I am gone.

I am not sure where things will go with this movement.  Do I wish we had more likes on facebook?  Sure.  I am only human and the validation those likes provide does help fuel my fire to do more.  Until last night I found myself too obsessed with that number.  After witnessing what I saw last night in that book I realized the folly of thinking that way.  Like Ozymandias, one day all of this will all be gone, but through this book Rees’ legacy will go on.  I really cannot wait to share this story with the world and I hope in turn that the world is as touched by it as I am.  I am a positive person, and I know that regardless of whatever happens, Rees’ legacy will live on because I have witnessed the power of kindness and its ability to lift us all up.  Seeing that book last night convinced me that this movement is already a success, regardless of how many people like us on facebook [though a few hundred thousand facebook likes would really help ;)]  or view our website.  Love is truly eternal, I know it is because my little boy lets me know every single day, one little piece at a time…

Enjoy a preview of the dedication of the book:

 

 

 

We really do wish to make a difference in this world in Rees’ name.  The 40,000 ReesSpecht life Cards that are circulating around the globe are certainly helping us achieve that goal, but that is really only a small part of what we are all about.  Our real goal is to get ReesSpecht Life Scholarships into as many High Schools as we can.  Last May, we awarded our first two Scholarships and we thought it would be nice to check in with the recipients and see what they are up to:  Over the next two nights we will showcase each of our award winners and share with you what they are doing thanks to the help of a little Rees Specht…

adamMy name is Adam Hammer. I am a freshman at the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. I’m majoring in Music Education (on trombone) and Music Theory. It’s an honor to be a recipient of the ReesSpecht Life scholarship. Without this scholarship, I would not have been able to attend Crane. It has been tough, financially, for my family since my dad passed away. Although I don’t know the pain of losing a child, I do know how it feels to lose a loved one. I think it is amazing that the Spechts have turned this tragedy into a way of giving back to others. It honors Rees’ memory and continues his legacy. Although I’ve had pain in my life, I have done my best to have a positive outlook and to make my father proud. I’m proud to be one of Rees’ Pieces. I do my best to perform a random act of kindness everyday and encourage people around me to do the same.

 

The winners of our scholarships are chosen based on their commitment to their community, compassion and respect for others.  We sorted through hundreds of applications for the scholarships and were amazed at what Adam, and his co-recipient Rebecca, had done for their communities during their time in High School.  It warms our heart to know that Adam is able to achieve his goal of attending the Crane School of Music because of the help of our movement.  It is our sincere hope that Adam and Rebecca are the first of many, many students who can count Rees as a guardian angel who helped them achieve their dreams.

 

 

It is often stated that a picture is worth one thousand words.  While I am not sure if the actual word count necessary to describe a picture is actually quantifiable, I suspect the number 1000 is used merely as a point of reference for comparison.  In comparison to literary descriptions, pictures give the viewer an irrefutable snapshot of a place in time that, unlike words, is tangible and real.  Words on a page cause our imaginations to generate our own, unique, images of the scene described.  The pictures our minds paint may be intricate and beautiful, but they are merely interpretations based on our own personal experiences and are not real.

Pictures, on the other hand, leave little to the imagination – bombarding us with visual facts that our brain doesn’t have to decipher as much as it has to store.   In a very real sense,  pictures perfectly capture time and save it in perpetuity – immutable and unchanging.  Instead of yielding our memories to the inevitable entropy of time,  each picture we make is a tiny victory against its unstoppable passage and the inevitable yielding of our memories to its eraser.  Where words may fail us in trying describe what the eyes see, a picture tells a truth that never changes.

We have many, many pictures of Rees. 100_6777 We have pictures of him that represent nearly every facet of his short life.  In some ways, I feel like we have so many pictures that it would be possible to string them together and splice them with the videos we have and make a moving picture show of his life that would recall all of his important milestones as well as those quiet, “just because”  moments.  Every picture we have of Rees is something I find myself looking over again and again in order to remind myself of what it was like to have him in our life.

Memories fade.  Sam and I talk about how we are forced to stop and remind ourselves of what it was like to have Rees be a part of our world physically.  I forget what it was like to have him sit next to me in his high chair at dinner time. img_0204 I struggle to remember what it was like to hear his infectious giggles every morning and his laughter at night.

I have trouble recalling his intonation of his favorite word: “Tractor!”.

 It feels like  the march of time is washing away the memories of him like the ebbing tide removes our footprints on a beach – and I am as powerless to stop this memory loss as I am to stop the flow of the tides themselves.

 Thankfully, we have those photos and videos to remind us of those fading memories.  When I find myself forgetting what it was like to see his smile I can turn to his pictures and refresh that fading memory.

img_1060  When the sound of his voice stops reverberating through my mind I can watch a video and hear him again.  All of those pictures remind me of what he was.  All of those pictures keep his memory alive.  All of those pictures bring me pain…

Every photograph that we have of Rees shares one thing in common: they are finite, a closed book.  There will never be another photo of him playing. 100_6573 There will never be another photo of his smile.img_0642

The photos we have remind us that all of what Rees was lies in the past.  The photos of Rees tell a story that ends on October 27th, 2012.  I love those photos of Rees.  I hate those photos of Rees.

Photos capture time and save it exactly as it is.  Photos never change.  Photos are the pictures that only tell the side of the story that takes place before the present.  Photos are not the only pictures we have of Rees.

A couple of weeks ago we were presented with a gift that reminded me that Rees is still with us and his spirit endures.  The picture was the first new one of Rees since his passing:rees

I think in our modern world we just assume that pictures mean photographs.  I thought I had every picture I would ever own of Rees.  I thought his story was complete and those finite images were the proof.  I was wrong.  The  portrait of Rees that was commissioned by a Rees’ piece we never met told us that Rees is still here.  He is making an impact in people’s lives and he is present.  When I look upon this portrait I see my little boy.  I see his spirit, I feel his presence.  There would be no reason for someone to paint a portrait of Rees unless they felt the same thing.  A person who never met my little boy – who never met any of us until she presented us with this amazing gift.  When I am down I gaze upon this picture and I only smile.  There are no tears.  There are no sad memories… there is only one thing: Hope.

I know Rees is “out there” somewhere.  I can see what he is doing from afar.  40,000 “Pay it forward” cards bestowing an equal number of acts of kindness are all the proof I need to see it.  Little Red points dotting the interactive globe on our website show that Rees’ spirit has literally reached across the globe to 21 different nations.  If you share our story with others, don’t tell them about our tragedy – tell them about our triumph.  Death is not the end.  The power of human kindness continues to prove to me over and over that the human spirit is something greater than I can quantify.  Our pictures tell us that Rees is no longer with us, but his portrait proves his spirit is.  I love you little man, I know you can hear me.  I know you are out there.  I don’t have to look far to find you, because I can see you in every Rees’ piece you touch.

IMG_0670I often hear from people who have heard our story the following words: “I cannot imagine what you are going through.”  I understand where that statement comes from: Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare.  This fear is shared by every parent from the moment their first bundle of joy enters the world.   I acutely recall the conflicting feelings of ultimate joy and nebulous fear when my first daughter, Abigail, was born. – Actually I think those feelings actually started from the moment we found out my wife was pregnant!  Regardless of when those feelings started, every parent is intimately aware of their presence – and time does nothing to abate them.  Even though I am 38, I know my Mother worries just as much about me now as she did the day I was born.  Being a parent presents the opportunity for unmatched reward at a significant cost:  A lifetime with your children brings great joy nearly every moment of our lives, yet at the same time provides a continuous source of worry.

These worries manifest almost immediately:  Will he/she meet the milestones they are supposed to reach?  Will they do well in school?  Will they find a significant other?  Will they find a meaningful career? – all of these questions, and more, are the questions we as parents openly ask ourselves and each other.  I often hear parents at  any gathering of children posing these questions to each other, attempting to ascertain whether or not their child is doing well in relation to the other children.  If you have ever spent time at a gathering of parents, especially parents of young children, you find that almost no topic regarding their child is off limits – even topics that in normal conversation would be considered taboo or socially inappropriate.  conversations about fecal color/consistency are just as common as political discussions.  It appears that most parents do not have a problem sharing both their hopes and fears regarding their children with each other save for one, ultimate fear: the potential of losing their child.

The fact that we can lose our children is a gnawing fear that permeates nearly every facet of being a parent, yet it is almost never mentioned among parents and rarely even acknowledged to the self.  Much like Voldemort from the Harry Potter series of books, the fear of losing a child  is omnipresent yet “must not be spoken of”, perhaps out of an additional fear that mentioning it could potentially awaken the fates and place their gaze upon you and your most precious of belongings.  No one wishes to “Tempt Fate”, and as such we keep this fear locked away from its prying eye.  Thankfully, for most us, we never have to face that fear head on.  Statistically speaking, most of us in the modern world, will never face the specter of losing a child – yet we nevertheless fear it constantly.

Statistics do very little to comfort those unfortunate enough to have lost a child.  For those who have lost the most precious thing their world, there is almost nothing that can be done, or said,  that will take away  or even mitigate the pain.  Knowing that the pain is untenable for the suffering parent may cause some to stay away, figuring there is nothing they can do to stop the pain.  The people who fall into this category seem be people with whom you were friendly but perhaps not “friends”.  I have mentioned before that there are still people in my workplace who look down and away when I come down the hallway, when they used to look up and greet me.  I don’t blame them, or judge them…  I think they do it because the very site of me, and what I am going through,  is a reminder that unimaginable can happen – and seeing someone they know go through it hits too close to home.  I believe in their eye’s it is easier to avoid the fear than face it, so they look away, hoping I wont engage them and confirm the reality they dread .    Still, for the vast majority, most will go out of their way to try and help – regardless of how uncomfortable or reality affirming the situation may be.   It is in the conversations I have with these people that the universal refrain is “I cannot imagine what you are going through”…

The real  truth is that everyone who states they have no idea what we are going through is incorrect.  In fact, every parent knows exactly what it feels like to lose a child:  it’s the manifestation of the fear that is always there that we never want to acknowledge.  The feeling every parent has had when a child trips and falls, bangs their head, wanders off out of site – all of these moments illicit the fear of “What if?”.  What if I had not broken their fall?  What if I turned my head for a second longer?  What if they walked out of our view in a crowded place?  What if?…  Every time we as parents face these “What if?” moments, and walk away untouched, we thank good fortune, or God.  We breath a sigh of relief and catch our breath and we regain our relative peace and comfort knowing everything is ok.  In these times we tuck away the “What if?” back into the recesses of our brain where it cannot come out and hurt us or taint the good times ahead.

For a parent who has lost a child the fleeting fear that lived in the backs of our minds as a “What if?”  becomes real.  Like Voldemort,  “he who must not be named”  attains its corporeal form and becomes an ever present facet of life, haunting you and causing immeasurable pain. This pain permeates every aspect of your life.  Interests that once brought joy are rendered inert.  Activities you used to count on to alleviate the tedium of life now only serve as agents that promote it.  Everything changes, and you are forced to accept a “new normal” that places an asterisk on your life that you cannot shake, ever.   The realization that life will never be the same makes things even worse, as you begin to think that you will never really enjoy life again.  “What if?” becomes reality, and the reality is something you never, ever want to wake up into again.

My wife and I live the “What if?” nightmare every day.  I wake up every morning to a collage of pictures that will never be added to – a reminder of happier times that also serves to reinforce the permanence of his absence.  In our case the “What if?” morphed from a fear to a longing for what could have been.  Instead of fearing about losing Rees, we lament what could have been.  In my case, my “what if(s)?” are now a recurring cycle of thoughts about what I could have done differently on that October day.  What if I hadn’t played one more video game that afternoon during his nap? –  I could have done the furniture while he was sleeping.  Ironically, it was a “What if?” that stopped me from doing that, as I distinctly remember thinking what if he gets hurt while I am outside not able to hear him?  What if I just closed those garage doors and joined my friend and Rees?  What if I didn’t yell at Craig for giving Rees that toy truck that wasn’t age appropriate?  What if? What if?  What if?…

What if is a double edged sword:  It can drive me mad as my mind computes the permutations of what I could have done differently that day, but it also caused me to aspire to do something audacious.  What if we take the worst thing that can happen to a parent and turn it around?  What if we counter a great negative with an equally strong positive?  For a scientist, the words “what if” are what lead us to the answers of tomorrow.  I no longer worry about what if I did this or did that…  My what if’s are now solely based on what I hope to do with the foundation we started in Rees’ name.  What if we raise enough money to get truly meaningful scholarships in schools that reward students not for athletic prowess or academic acumen, but rather for simply being a good person in their community?  What if we start so many acts of kindness that people begin to think of others first, before themselves? What if I fail at my goal and Rees Specht life does not take off?  What if one day children everywhere are as familiar with Rees Specht Cultivating kindness as they are the Wiggles making fruit salad?    What if people grow tired of our message and move on to the next big thing?  –  There certainly is the possibility for any of those “What if’s?”- yet the beauty of “What if”, is that I can still dream of those possibilities becoming reality.  If that happens I wont look back at the end of my days saying “What if?” –  I will look back and smile knowing that we helped make this a better world, one little Rees’ piece at a time…

 

 

 

 

IMG_0069“…hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” – Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption.  Tonight as I sat through a viewing of my favorite film, I was reminded of this quote.  I have literally watched this movie an innumerable number of times and that quote never really hit me like it did tonight.  Hope is the quintessential Human emotion.  It is unique in its ubiquitous applications.  Hope finds itself at home equally lifting us up from the darkness of despair or elevating us ever higher through life’s  crescendos.  Hope reminds us that the worst of times will get better, and promises that the best of times will someday, somehow return.  Hope is salvation and celebration wrapped up in one simple, yet profound, package.  Hope is the unwritten promise that the future holds better times ahead.  Hope is truly a good thing, maybe the best of things.

I can honestly say that on October 27th, 2012, I thought hope died with my little boy.  They say the loss of a child is cruelest loss of all because it robs a parent, siblings and other family of the one thing we all believe is there for the young: a future.  The loss of my boy, and his future that I played out in my mind the day he was born, represented the loss of hope for me.  There was no hope that I would ever see his eyes light up on Christmas morning.  There was no hope that I would witness his conquering of two wheeled independence on a bicycle.  My hope of sharing  that special father-son knowledge that my father passed on to me would never come to pass.  Every hope and dream I had for Rees died with him on that day.  If hope is the best of things, then my son’s death meant the loss of everything that was good in this world to me.

The hardest part about losing hope is that it does not happen all at once.   It is said that when you die you see your life flash before you in an instant.  The opposite is true when you lose a child.  It is a painstaking process of realizations that build and build as you start to deconstruct the woven connections this tiny life had in the fabric of your own life.  Each realization comes at different moments, unannounced and often completely unexpectedly.  A toy found behind a couch, left there from one of his last grand adventures,  reminds you that those adventures will never continue.  A lonely shoe found under your bed represents footsteps that will never be heard again.  A print on a window, a ghostly apparition of a hand never to be held again.  The loss does not hit you all at once.  It does not flash in front of you in an instant.  Instead of an acute pain, the loss of a child is a dull ache that grows with each moment of recognition of the irreparable tears to the fabric of your life.  Throughout this time, hope is slowly pealed away,  like a scabbed over bandage that is excruciatingly removed, bit by painful bit.

The realization that your little boy will never laugh again, play again, say your name again or cry again all start to combine together forming a void of hopelessness that becomes self sustaining and ever burgeoning.  The loss of hope to the void is the embodiment of despair.  Like a black hole, this void starts consuming everything in its path.  After consuming your hopes and dreams for your child the void looks to sustain its growth by taking away from you every other hope and dream you possess.  Things that you once found enjoyable yield to its ever burgeoning maw.  Before you know it, all your hopes and dreams find themselves at the edge of the event horizon, poised to take the final plunge into oblivion.  I can only speak for myself, but I think every parent who loses a child finds themselves in the position I was in, gaping at the maw and having to make the decision to let it swallow you and end the pain or resist its pull somehow and find a way back…

Ironically, the way back is fueled by the very thing the maw wishes to consume:  Hope.  It is only when all hope is lost that the void can consume you.  As long as there remains even the smallest amount of hope, there exists a lifeline away from gaping maw of utter despair.  Hope is exactly what I found.  While I lost the hope of a future with Rees in it, I gained the hope in something else fueled by his spirit.  I found hope that  people can find within themselves the power they have to make this world a better place, as an individual working towards a collective goal of kindness to others.  I can now see the vessel of hope that set sail against the backdrop of my void of despair emerging from the darkness.  Acts of kindness spread in my son’s name are literally popping up all over the world.  Rees’ pieces are themselves finding acts of kindness coming back to them from other Rees’ pieces they have never met.  “Drive through” acts of kindness, like the one reported in Newsday on New Years Eve, keep popping up with increasing frequency.

Each of these of these moments, each of these acts, fuels my hope for a better world than the one Rees left more than a year ago.  People are beginning to see what random acts of kindness do for BOTH the giver and the receiver.  The movement is growing beyond my wildest dreams, which of course only fuels new hopes for the future.  I sit here tonight, prepared to make a decision on a Publisher for our Children’s book “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness”, hoping that the success of the book will allow us to provide scholarships to schools far and wide.  I hope that ReesSpecht life becomes synonymous with kindness worldwide.  I hope that we continue to make this world a better place, one piece at a time.  I hope that my little boy is smiling down on all of us from his seat on his tractor up above.  Hope is a good thing.  Hope is the best of things.  Hope can make this world better for everyone.  I hope.

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