In my first 14,692 days of life I have asked many questions; some easily answered and others impossible. I certainly do not recall my first questions, but I imagine my first question as simply: “Why?”. Why does Mommy smile at me when I laugh? Why does Daddy laugh when I make sounds that sound similar to bodily functions? Why does Grandma give me a disapproving look when I spit my food on her? We all learn by questioning the world around us. Even before the language that exists to express these questions forms, we immediately start seeking the answers to them. Some answers are easily obtained, while others remain out of reach…
Answering the “whys” of life never stops – they simply grow: Each new answer invariably leads to ever more complex questions. It is no coincidence that this complexity mirrors the ever burgeoning complexity of the brains that spawned them. As we answer the mysteries of the simpler “whys?” of our youth the pathway of questioning inexorably leads us to the existential: “Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?” line of questioning. It happens to all of us sooner or later and represents the first truly “adult” problem we face: How do you handle a question that no one else can answer?
Questioning our existence is one of the universal bonds of adult thinking and in many ways represents the quintessential human question. The me from before we lost Rees was a smug, self assured person who honestly felt he had everything figured out. I was sure what my purpose was. I was confident that my will would dictate the course of my life. I was convinced that everything we are ends with our death. I knew everything – yet in reality knew nothing. I thought my eyes were wide open, when in reality they were firmly closed; the only sites I could see were what my imagination was conjuring at the time. That all changed the day I lost Rees.
When I look back at pictures of me from the days before Rees died I see that person that seems like a stranger to me now. That person was sure he was going to teach science for as long as he could. The stranger that inhabited this body had grand visions of a perfect life with his two girls and only son. That shadow of my current self believed he was in control of his destiny. The “before” me would have told you that life follows the script you write for yourself. I now know life is not scripted at all. It is improvised in response to something greater that we have no control over. It flows like the Ocean, and while we remain powerless to alter its course, we have the ability to set our sails to navigate any way we choose.
As I look back now, the me from “before” was as ignorant as can be… And the real irony is that doppleganger would scoff at many of the notion’s I hold as truths now. Fate, it turns out, isn’t in our control – destiny has a place for all of us. The key is finding that place for ourselves. I think I have found that place and it is a place far removed from the confines of this classroom I find myself writing in right now.
It still has not dawned on me that I will not be here next year. This is the last time I will sit here as “Mr. Specht” the science teacher. Sure, I will still be teaching, but the lessons will be very different than those which I have taught in the past 15 years. Out with Einstein, Mendel and Newton (and running into walls!).
In with Kindness, Compassion and Respect. I will reach more students, yet I will not forge those close-knit relationships that invariably develop when you are with the same children day after day for 180+ days a year. I am going to miss that. I am going to miss my colleagues. I am going to miss those administrators who truly cared about both the students and their staff. There is so much I am going to miss, yet there is an immeasurable number of new experiences I am excited to embark on.
I now know life is not scripted at all. It is improvised in response to something greater that we have no control over. It flows like the Ocean, and while we remain powerless to alter its course, we have the ability to set our sails to navigate any way we choose..
So here I find myself ending a chapter in the book of my life. I feel truly blessed that I will have the opportunity to share Rees’ story and our goal of making this world a kinder place with students, teachers, and parents all over. I know this is the path I am supposed to take. Current understanding of biology indicates that we are the only organisms on this planet (and perhaps all of existence) who have the ability to look at the greater universe around us and attempt to identify our place in it. I know my place now. My little boy helped plant a seed in my heart that has grown into something I could never have imagined. I am going to cultivate it and spread that kindness to everyone I can. My days as a science teacher have likely drawn to a close, but a new door is now wide open. As I prepare to walk out of Room 213 one last time, I know I am stepping into something much bigger. I am going to keep that promise I made to my little boy: The world is going to know his name. It’s time to make this world a better place – many Rees’ pieces at a time…