We spent 12 of the 14 days after Rees’ death in darkness. Not a figurative darkness, a literal one. It took 12 days for the Long Island Power Authority to restore our power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. For 12 days I sat in a dark, silent, house befitting my shattered and darkened soul. For 12 days I toiled about, much like other Islander’s, keeping my generator running, trying to figure out how to shower, and coming up with creative ways to create meals out of a rapidly defrosting melange of meats and veggies in our freezer. My family felt the same shock shared by most of the people in the tri-state area who suddenly found themselves with the first-world only problems of being cut off from our social networks, newsfeeds and favorite tv shows. Superstorm Sandy was a shared dose of misery for almost every person in the Tri-State area. We felt all of it, and on top of it, we had to bury our 22 month old son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht.
When I look back on that storm, I can’t help but wonder “What if?”… What if that storm turned East instead of West? What if I had cleaned up the lawn furniture right when Samantha asked me to? What if I just went outside and put away the furniture while Rees was napping? What if I didn’t try to secure down those damned garage doors? What if I didn’t yell at my friend for letting Richie play with that stupid toy truck? What if I never let my friend back into my life years earlier when all of his other friends cut him loose for one reason or another? What if Rees wasn’t cranky that morning and Sam took him shopping like she intended? What if, what if, what if, what if…. there are so many what if’s – and truth be told, each of them arrives at the same end: Rees would, most likely, still be here today.
Before I asked “Why?“ – I asked “What if?”, and just as I really have no concrete answer to the former, the latter used to, until relatively recently, haunt me periodically. What if’s are fairy tales. What if’s are the fool’s errand that every parent who has lost a child asks themselves at some point. Some parents I have spoken to find themselves on a perpetual Cervantian quest to reconcile that incessant 2 word question. I also found myself trying to slay the windmill of “what if?”, and I admit that the urge wells up within me still, almost two years out, to suit up and take those words on. I can’t allow myself to fall back into the darkness of “what if?”. The lights in my home were not the only ones to turn on that night, 12 days after Sandy took so much from our family…
That night was really what started our little movement. As soon as the power came back on I wrote “Why?” and mine and my wife’s mission of honoring our little boy and making a difference in the world in his name began. Everything that has transpired from that moment would not have happened if any of those “What if’s?” had different outcomes. If Rees was still here, none of this would be. In all likelihood, my third daughter, and fourth child, would not be due any day now if he was still here. If I ponder those “What if’s?” it forces me to make a choice between the good we have done in his name, and our selfish want to have him back in our lives. I cannot change the past. “What if’s?” are irrelevant. Acceptance is knowing that I can never have him back, so asking myself that question can only cause me distress.
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.
― Alice Morse Earle
In the present I find myself with enough challenges that make me question just how I am going to succeed with all the goals we set forth in the aftermath of losing Rees without burdening myself with hypotheticals concerning the past. I am a stubborn and contradictory man… I don’t accept the notion of a no-win situation, yet I get discouraged easily at times. I have such grand ideas for what we can do, but I sometimes lack the will to see them through. At my heart I have always been a dreamer and idealist – and those traits combined with my pertinacity can be a recipe for disappointment. While I am aware of, and avoid, asking “What if’s?” about the past, I currently find myself asking “What if’s?” about the future:
What if my children’s book doesn’t sell through its first run? What if I lose another person close to me? What if something happens to the baby? What if people just shrug their shoulders at what we are trying to do? What if my goal of spreading Rees’ story and kindness just dies? What if something happens to me before I achieve our goals? What if my little boy is forgotten? What if, what if, what if, what if??? – These questions, and many more, pop into my head on a daily basis. I try not to think about them, and I have tried to rationalize them away like the “What if’s?” of the past; but just I can’t seem to shake it.
There are times I wish I had a crystal ball to see into the future. I want to know if this dream I have will play out the way I hope it will. I’ve lost so much in past few years, and I guess I feel like something has to start moving in the right direction now. What I really need to do is focus on the “what if’s?” that have a positive outcome… What if every goal I set out for this movement comes true? What do we then? I guess those positive “What if’s” are what hope is all about. In the meantime, I have the present to focus on “What now?”.
hope is a good thing. maybe the best of good things. and no good thing ever dies
― the shawshank redemption
Right now I have a baby on the way. Right now there are over 70,000 ReesSpecht Life Cards spread around the world – with each hopefully representing at least 1 act of kindness a piece. Right now we have provided scholarships for 6 deserving students. Right now we have provided meals for local families suffering hardships. Right now we have raised over $23,000 for the family of my late friend, Arthur Miller. Right now there are boys and girls all over the town of Brookhaven, NY who are playing with toys they would not have received without the kindness of others. Right now we are making a difference. Right now there people who are suffering less because of simple human kindness paid forward in a little boy’s name. Right now, at this very moment, I am ok. Right now is all we ever have. I need to stop worrying about “What if’s?” and remind myself that right now is oldest I have ever been, and youngest I will ever be again. “What if’s?” only live in the past and future… we all live right now. Let’s make this right now the best it can be, one little piece at a time…