My wife, also known as the Saint of Sound Beach (for putting up with me for more than 20 years now), reminds me often that I am a walking paradox. Apparently my ability to solve complex problems yet forget simple things like what days the garbage goes out is something that keeps her up at night. I must admit, I find it incredibly frustrating that I can remember the most obscure facts about things, and have an uncanny ability to recall them, yet I struggle to remember the names of people I have known for some time. I love pea soup, but I hate peas. I love anything strawberry flavored, yet I despise strawberries. I spend just as much time (ok, probably more) watching cartoons as I do reading papers about quantum mechanics and superstring theory. I am equally comfortable playing video games with kids as I am discussing the role of entropy in degradation of living systems with my science colleagues. Finally, I believe in the power of science and the scientific method to unlock the mysteries of the universe, yet I still believe in “magic”…
The oxford dictionary defines magic as: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” Arthur C. Clarke, the amazing mind behind 2001: A Space Odyssey, went even further to describe just what “magic” really is in his 3 laws of prediction:
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
-Arthur C. Clarke
To Clarke, and any most other scientists I know, “magic” is nothing more than something that is just waiting for a rational explanation. I used to believe these three laws and subscribed to them as infallible doctrine. I was such a firm believer in this doctrine, that I would use it with smug assurance to knock down any view that someone had that was in the least bit irrational in my eyes. I admit, I used a version of it to explain to my parents why I believed that an afterlife or heaven, or even God for that matter, was all hokum collected in a book written 2000 years ago by ignorant people who could not explain the world around them rationally. I was unabashedly arrogant in regards to this, and I rarely missed an opportunity to “correct” anyone who made the mistake of professing their beliefs to me. As I look back now, I find it incredibly ironic that at that time where I was so sure my eyes were open to a bigger picture, they were in reality almost closed; narrowly focusing on only one way of seeing things.
I see things differently now in so many ways. I’ve written before about how I feel my life has a permanent asterisk attached to it that seems to take a piece of my joy away. Whatever happy frame I try to picture my life as must now be painted upon a canvas that is tattered and torn. Regardless of how beautiful any particular moment is it’s impossible to gaze upon the whole picture and ignore the destroyed canvas underneath. The damage remains a constant reminder of all that can go wrong and I now find I have an unwelcome, prescient sense that foresees all the possible negative outcomes that could follow. It is impossible to look back on my life without framing it in reference to that terrible moment that robbed me of my little boy.
Losing my son has fundamentally changed how I look at, and respond to, the world around me as a whole. I realize that I paint a bleak picture of child loss and its effects on the grieving parent. Here I am, almost three years removed from that terrible moment, and the pain is as intense as the moment I realized he was gone. Everything I wrote is true about the irreparable damage to my life’s canvas. It’s true, I cannot look back at the big picture without seeing the damage… but who says I have to look back? I find that I now possess the ability to compartmentalize my life and look at each moment as it comes, good or bad. I possess an appreciation for the little moments that, in looking at the big picture, I would have overlooked in the past. I now see the magic of the everyday moments that previously passed me by…
It’s ironic that in taking my gaze away from the big picture I now find myself seeing so much more than I ever did before. Nowhere was this revelation more evident than our recent family trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. I have been to Disney World countless times, and while I always enjoyed the trip, I never had an experience there like I did this past trip. I admit, I had some trepidation about going this time, considering our last trip there was with Rees and in many ways it represents some of the fondest memories I have of him:
That trip was the last time I really got to spend quality time with Rees and the whole family. It was right at the end of the summer and, due to car issues, we actually returned right before school started. I really didn’t have a chance to even digest the trip, and the memories we made there, since we were thrown right back into the craziness of the beginning of the school year. Little did I know, but I would only have seven more weeks with my son. Seven weeks that were unremarkable, mundane and just a part of the grind: Wasted time that I wish I could get back even one day of so that I could be with my little boy again…
As we prepared for this year’s trip to Disney I found my excitement tempered by the constant reminder that Rees would be missing. No matter what I did to psyche myself up, nothing seemed like it could raise my excitement level to the highs I had previously experienced prior to a trip to “the happiest place on Earth.” Try as I might, the big picture kept creeping in, keeping my focus off of life’s little miracles. Just when I thought I would not be able to find the joy in what should have been the highlight of my year, a little magic found its way to me. The second my eyes saw the sign welcoming us to Disney World, fate stepped in and saw me through to the magic of the moment. I smiled the same smile I always did when I saw that sign, and in one brief moment, I was reminded to focus on the happiness of myself and my family. That moment was magical – as was the rest of our trip.
Magic is the only word I can use to describe the feeling I had for those seven days with my family. My daughter Abby and I rode every ride we could, and made point of making each moment count. I didn’t lament Rees not being there… because he was, in my heart – on my sleeve, the whole time. My fear that I would compare this trip to the last one with him was completely unfounded. In fact, I did compare it, but only in a positive way. The fact I never once broke down, or found myself overwhelmed with melancholic thoughts was magic in and of itself.
As I look back to the trip I realize that another piece of the puzzle of grief has been filled in for me. I love my little boy with all my heart, but he is gone, at least in a corporeal sense, and I have to focus on what I have. I have three beautiful daughters who mean the world to me. I have an amazing wife who inspires me. I have a little angel above who lifts me up and challenges me to be the best I can be. The memories I have of him will never go away. The joy he brought to my life can’t ever change. Yes, his loss did alter my life’s portrait, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t admire the beauty of it as a whole. While those quiet moments with him will never be again, there are new moments to be made with my three little girls and beautiful wife. Every day presents opportunities for new experiences (and sometimes even inadvertent repeats of older ones…) and a taste of life’s magic:
That taste of life’s magic is what I think many of us are missing out on. Our modern world is too full of self-imposed distractions that keep us from finding the wonder in life’s little moments. My wife and I started ReesSpecht Life with really only two goals in mind: 1) Keep Richie’s legacy alive and 2) Remind people of the importance of kindness and helping one another. While those two tenants remain as important to our mission as they ever were, I think I need to add a third goal: Reminding people that goodness and the magic of life is something we should treasure.
It is my hope that by taking our message to schools this year, I can help other’s see the world from a different perspective without having to face the hardships my family and I endured to change ours. I also hope that our story serves as a reminder to those who have suffered great loss that your life does not have to end with the loss of that loved one. Life will continue and it is up to you to make that life the best it can be. The events of October 27th, 2012 have forced the perspective on me that no future is guaranteed and that each moment should be savored. Although, sometimes, my happiness is negated to some extent I find that I am overall much more appreciative of what I have. I find myself relishing moments that I am sure I would have otherwise overlooked. And most of all, I now see the magic in everyday moments that the me before would have never even fathomed. My little boy helped open my eyes to the things that were previously hiding in plain sight. The kindness of others reinforced that we all possess a little magic in ourselves. All I wish to do is to help us all recognize just how important it is to believe in that power. I believe in magic. I believe in the power of kindness to change the world. Now it’s time to get others to see that too… one little piece at a time.