It would be an understatement to declare that the past few weeks have been a whirlwind for us… My wife and I are still trying to come to grips with the idea that people, literally all over the world, know about Rees and our movement due to the incredibly generous act of one of my former students. There are no words that can describe the feeling that we find ourselves washed in as people all over the globe share the story of $3,000 tip and the reason behind it. All we ever wanted was for Rees’ brief, 22 month, life to have meaning – for him to make a difference. In reality, all any of us ever really wants is to make a difference in this world. Every person on planet earth makes a difference to someone… None of us are born in isolation and through our simple, day to day, human interactions we make a difference in other’s lives by default.
Some individuals make a difference to many people, others to only a few. Some of us live long, quiet, lives, while others lives loud, short ones. Most of us go through life making a difference to those select few whose live’s our own life touches. If we are lucky enough to live a long life, and touch many people, I think most of us would count that as a life well lived. Sadly, there are those few people like my little boy, that never get a chance to make much of a difference because their lives are cut short.
Rees has been gone from our physical world for longer than he was with us and in many ways his life almost feels like a dream. It pains me to realize that I honestly forget much of what life was like with him here. Thankfully, the milestones that our baby daughter, Melina, are going through help to remind us of some of those things we simply forgot. Still, I forget his smell. I forget his voice. I find my recollection of his mannerisms “fuzzy” at best. A child only needs a nano-second to imprint themselves on your heart forever, but the brain apparently doesn’t operate under the same set of rules. I don’t want to forget my little boy…
My heart still remembers him. My heart still feels him. My heart aches for him. My brain?? My brain seems to be letting go while my heart holds on to everything it can. It’s a cruel dichotomy that I wish I could alter, but find myself powerless to. My memories of him fade with each passing day and, with him gone, there are no new memories to replace the moments of days past. My heart carries him on, but my brain is letting him go. In many ways I find myself losing him, just a little bit, more and more every day. I know he made a difference in our lives for those 22 months, but the details are receding further and further from my reach. It may be inevitable that I will lose much, if not most, of the memories I have of him.
One memory I have of Rees isn’t a real memory at all… not in a visceral sense at least. I know this particular memory is one that will never, ever fade from my memory – or my heart. The memory I am referring to is actually one that took place about a week after Rees died. I was driving to Lowes Home Improvement to see if I could find a gas can and other necessities which were needed in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. I was almost at the store when something made me look in the rearview mirror. I nearly slammed into the car in front of me as I was completely distracted by what I saw in the mirror… I swore I saw Rees, sitting in his car seat smiling at me. I swear he was there. It felt so real, and I even had a moment of relief where I felt as though I finally emerged from the nightmare I was a part of that week. And then he was gone. Poof. All I could see was an empty car seat. A visual reminder my little boy was gone forever…
I remember the emptiness I felt at looking at that vacant seat. It was a visual reminder of the missing part of my soul. It was also the first time I realized that one day I would forget what it was like to have him in that seat behind me. It was the first time I became aware that I would forget him to some extent. It was also the moment I decided that I was going to do everything in my power to prevent his memory from fading completely. The song playing on the radio at that moment was perfectly timed… it cemented my resolve to keep his memory alive long after mine is but a whisper in the wind:
Standing in the hall of fame
And the world’s gonna know your name
‘Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And the world’s gonna know your name
And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame
That song touched a part of me and lit a fire inside that will never be quenched. I used to believe that everything was a merely a coincidence and that the universe was just a random series of probabilities and that nothing had any real meaning in the end. This was the first sign of many from my little boy. There is a greater meaning to things. I am sure of it. Everything that has transpired over the past two years has confirmed my newfound beliefs. The universe sends us messages – we just need to be open to them. I never heard them before because I was never truly listening. It’s no coincidence that the first time I tuned in, my little Rees sent me a sign and set me on my current mission.
A former student of mine interviewed me the other day and asked me about the fallout from the tip story going worldwide. I shared with her the story about the song and seeing the image of Rees for the first time. Upon hearing that she asked me if I felt like I had accomplished my goal… The world knew Rees. Mission accomplished? Not quite. I merely kept a promise to my little boy. My real mission has only just begun…
I believe in the goodness in all of us. I believe that kindness is the difference maker we all have sitting inside of us – some more latent than others. My little boy set me on this mission to cultivate kindness in his name. I was wrong about his 22 months being his only chance to make a difference. Rees is making a difference all over the Earth. Only a few people can ever say they made a difference worldwide. My little boy is one of those people. Memories may fade, but love never truly dies. I carry the love of my little boy in my heart, and the world knows his name through that love. I thought his story ended on that fall day in 2012. I was wrong; it merely started a new chapter…