I swore he was in that seat again...

Richard “Rees” Specht 12/19/10 – 10/27/12

Four years, 390,000 kindness cards and one promise.

Tomorrow, October 27th, 2016 will mark four years since we lost our little boy to a drowning in our backyard pond.  That figure seems incalculably large when contrasted against how long each day, hour, minute and second felt right after my son died.  Back then, time seemed to possess a cruel irony: Every second after he left us feeling like an eternity, while the 22 months he was here passing instantaneously.

Four years later and I have found that time has yet again managed to impart another cruelty upon me: It feels as though we lost him both yesterday and a lifetime ago. How can it be that time has both moved faster than I can perceive while simultaneously seeming to stand still?  My memories of him seem to have faded commensurate to time’s passage, yet my love for him remains as strong as it ever was.  It’s a paradox that vexes my, sometimes overly logical, brain.

The paradoxes don’t end there.  I often find myself wishing to make this pain go away, only to realize that my pain is a manifestation of my love I cannot directly express to him anymore.  Memories of past embraces find me holding nothing but anguish.  The echoes of his laughter, physically long gone, still reverberate in my mind.  Yesterday’s hope, filled with joy as I watched him grow is replaced with today’s sorrow that he will never grow up.

With each new yesterday gone by, time seems bent on taking little pieces of him away while simultaneously reminding me that he is gone. Time is that travel companion that never leaves your side, never stops talking AND makes you carry all the baggage.  I often wish I could simply ditch this unwanted travel-mate, but I know there is nowhere to go in which it wont find me.  No matter how much I try to ignore it, time always has a way of catching back up and reminding me of the things I would rather forget…

They say the more that things change, the more they stay the same.  I never truly understood that saying until recently.  As the strain in my relationship with my temporal companion grows, I see that the linear path I thought we were on together is more like a circle.  I feel like I am moving ahead, but time keeps tugging at me, ever so slightly, causing my path to imperceptibly arc and circle back on itself.  All I want to do is move forward and time keeps bringing me back to where I started.

It took four years, but I am pretty certain that I just finished my first circuit.  Four years ago, as I stood in front of family, friends, and even complete strangers at Rees’ memorial, I unknowingly started on the path I find myself on today.  Both Samantha and I were so worried that no one would come that night because of gas shortages, power outages and communications blackouts caused by Super Storm Sandy.  We were “lucky” to even find a funeral home that was open, much less get word out that a memorial was being held.  We thought we would be alone that night.  We were wrong.

I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who made their way out to to support my wife Samantha and I in our most desperate time.  So many people showed up that the police needed to direct traffic outside the funeral home and we had to extend the visiting time to accommodate the throng of people who filled the funeral home to capacity and wrapped around the outside, waiting to get in.

Little did I know, but that night was the beginning of the ReesSpecht Life Foundation and the Cultivate Kindness movement.  As that evening wore on, my close friend Jim asked me if I wanted to say something to everyone.  At first I declined, but he encouraged me to say a few words, explaining that those words would mean a lot to the people who were there and perhaps be healing for myself as well.  After a small deliberation, I finally agreed and I spoke to everyone there…

The words that came out of my mouth were unexpected by everyone in the funeral home, including myself.  While I thanked everyone there, I didn’t really talk about Rees or myself and my family.  Instead, I talked about the people who were there to support us; helping to lift Samantha and I up in our time of despair.  As I stood there, looking at all these different people, something struck me.  I realized that these were the very same friends and relatives who were, just several days prior, arguing and complaining about (and to) each other about the 2012 Presidential election.  I was instantly drawn to the contrast I was witnessing of the disparate group of people all coming together for something they all agreed in: Helping someone in need.  Being there to raise a family from the depths of despair.  Showing kindness in the wake of the worst thing that can happen to a parent.

I asked everyone there a simple question: “Why are you here?” – which I answered immediately, “To raise Samantha and I up.  To be a positive to counter this great negative that has befallen us.”.  I then asked the next question that came to my mind. It’s the question that started our whole movement: “Why is it we wait until something tragic has happened to use this power we have to lift others up?”  That one question then lead to several more…  “Why do wait until something is negative to use the power of positivity to return it to neutral?  Imagine if we used this power everyday?  A positive charge applied to a neutral system makes the whole system positive.”  I will never forget the look on everybody’s faces:  A look of acknowledgement and understanding.  I ended my brief talk with a simple request to “start to do the little positive things that help make this world a better place for us all.”

That brief talk, which I thought was a fitting ending to what I witnessed that night turned out to be the very seed that started our movement. Brian, a colleague of mine from work, sought me out at the end of the night to tell me that my words reverberated within in him.  He pointed out that what I was talking about was the essence of respect for each other and that he couldn’t shake the connection with our little boy’s nickname, “Rees” and his last name, Specht.  “ReesSpecht Life”, Brian he suggested softly.  “You should start a foundation using his name and promoting the very idea you shared tonight.”

The moment Brian said that a light started to flicker in the darkness of the void Rees’ passing had created.  Over the next few weeks that light would continue to grow brighter as I started to share my writings on Facebook.  I started a Facebook page called “ReesSpecht Life” and we counted a couple hundred followers who encouraged me to share more about the stories of kindness we received in the wake of Rees’ passing.  For the next couple of months I continued to write and share those stories, but it started to feel like something was missing.  We wanted to do more to pay back the kindness we had received, except no one would let us pay them back.

We had experienced so many wonderful acts of kindness from the kindest people I have ever known.  There were so many acts of kindness for me to share, like Bill Kelly from Kelly Brother’s landscaping completely restoring my yard from the damage Sandy wrought and removing the pond Rees drowned in.  He wouldn’t take anything in return.  My cousin Peter waiting in a gas-line for hours to get us gas for our generator.  My colleague Michelle who organized and gathered together some boys in our community to deliver and stack wood for us to use to heat our home.  Friends, family and co-workers who made us so many meals that we literally didn’t have to cook for almost six months.  All this kindness, and no one would let us pay them back.

Front and back of our orignal "Pay it Forward" cards.

Front and back of our orignal “Pay it Forward” cards.

Since no one would let us pay them back we decided to print up our kindness cards so that we could “pay it forward”.  Our goal was to perform 500 random acts of kindness and leave the card emblazoned with Rees’ image and name behind for each one of those acts.  The cards were part of my promise to my little boy that, in some small way, the world would get to know him through these acts of kindness in his name.  Little did I know at the time but our very first act of kindness, using one of the cards at a local Dunkin Donuts Drive-thru, started a chain reaction that continues to grow until this day.

The world does know his name...

The world does know his name…

As I write this, over 390,000 of our cards have been distributed, worldwide.  In only three and half years our Facebook page went from a couple hundred, local, followers to over 70,000 world-wide today.  We have distributed over 10,000 copies of our children’s book.  I’ve had the honor of speaking to over 30,000 students about the power of kindness.  I’ll admit, as things continued to grow, I really felt like I was honoring that promise to my little boy and making good on my words to add a little positivity to the world.  I really thought we were moving forward, until I found myself back where it all started…

Today my Facebook feed and everyday conversations seemed filled with the same vitriol and blaming it was four years ago. I see people openly disparaging others because they don’t share the same views. Here we are again, focusing on that which divides us.  Focusing on the negative and placing the blame on others.  I see people emboldened to “tell it like it is” and put other’s down because they are “different”.  I watch in horror as people look outward for someone else to “fix” all our problems.  The fingers of blame seem to be pointed everywhere.

Four years ago I thought I stumbled upon a solution to this very problem that made sense.  You cannot lend a helping hand when that hand is already pointing the finger of blame at someone else.  I really believed that as people saw what one little idea, one tiny little seed of kindness, could do they would recognize that the power to make this world a better place does not lie in the words and promises of one person…  I truly thought they would come to understand that we each play a role in making a change, and that collectively we can make a difference.  For once, I thought time was on my side – proving that we could make a real change in only short amount of it.   The scientist in me thought that the proof was in the incredible numbers of acts of kindness performed in the name of one little boy.

And it is.  The proof is actually there.  It was right in front of my face the whole time.  I realize the mistake I was making is the same mistake we all make when considering distance and time.  We think that as we move forward we do so in a straight line.  The reality is that there are imperceptible forces acting on either side of that forward movement.  Those forces are the choices we make between positive and negative – good and bad.  As we think we are moving forward our good choices pull us slightly to one side, while our bad choices pull us in the opposite direction.  If the good equals the bad, then the net motion is in a straight line, but not in the direction you were originally headed.  In mathematics this is known as a vector.  However, if one force is greater than the other, the line begins to arc.  That arc, if allowed to continually propagate, forms a circle…

That circle has us right back where we started four years ago.  At a quick glance, it would appear that we accomplished nothing.  Nothing has changed. Here we are, right back where we started.  People are pointing fingers, insulting each other and focusing on the negative. The circle has closed itself, ready to start the cycle anew.  I guess we failed then.  Right?  Wrong.  The truth is something that I need to remind myself of often.  The truth is that all of our efforts are a part of what helped make this journey a circle and not a vector headed in the absolute opposite direction.

As humans we tend to focus on the beginnings and endings of journeys but rarely consider the path that took us there.  I can lament the fact that in many ways, we are right back at the point we started four years ago, but that would be dismissing the journey itself and our effect on its path.  Therein lies the proof of everything we have espoused since day one… that change is made, not in great strokes by one person, but rather through the collective actions of many working in unison.  If we want to change the world, we cannot look at it as failure when our efforts find us back at the starting point.  We have to understand the role we took in ensuring we made it back to that point in the first place!  We need to recognize our actions kept us from falling off the precipice and put us back into the position to try to straighten the circle this time around.

So it is here that I find myself four years out from the moment that changed the trajectory of my life forever.  Time, my ceaseless (and often unwanted) companion, is still here by my side.  I can sit here and lament that, at a quick glance, nothing has changed in those 126,230,400 seconds… That I am back right where I started.  Sure, I could do that.  In fact, most people do and they certainly wouldn’t fault me for it.  The problem with that is by doing so, I ignore the journey and the effect that journey had on getting us back to this point.  The path to success never looks the way we think it should.  I made a promise to my little boy four years ago that his legacy was going to help make a difference in this world.  As long as time remains by my side, I am never going to stop trying to fulfill that promise.  Never let anyone tell you that you don’t matter.  We are, each of us, a difference maker.  390,000 kindness cards and we are still here, ready to make even more of a difference, one little Rees’ piece at a time…


headshot squareRICH SPECHT is a father of four who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Mary Washington and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Stony Brook University.  Prior to embarking on his career as a public speaker and advocate for kindness, Rich was a science teacher for 15 years at Great Hollow Middle School, in Nesconset, New York.  In addition to his speaking, Rich is also the published author of the award winning children’s book  A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness.  Rich and his wife, Samantha, are the co-founders of the ReesSpecht Life Foundation which they formed in the wake of the loss of their only son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer (Rees) Specht at 22 months old.  The acts of kindness that the family received after Rees’ passing inspired them to “pay forward” that kindness; which the foundation does in the form of scholarships for High School seniors who demonstrate a commitment to their community, compassion and respect, as well as the distribution of almost four hundred thousand ReesSpecht Life “pay it forward” cards.  The themes and characters from Rich’s book(s) are currently slated to become an animated children’s television series produced by Safier Entertainment.  The book and television adaptations of A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness represents the culmination of Rich’s goal to help make this world a little better, one Rees’ piece at a time.  Rich currently resides in Sound Beach, New York with his wife, Samantha, daughters, Abigail, Lorilei and Melina as well as his angel above, Rees.

What was the worst day of your life? If you are like most, you likely responded with a date in which a close loved one was lost.  In my experience most adults have lost more than one close person to them, so they usually lay claim to multiple days – not wanting to diminish the impact of one loss in comparison to another.  For parents who have lost a child that struggle to choose one day does not exist… There is only one day that can lay claim to the title of “worst day ever”.

Rees Truly is a Superhero... Photo Credit: Rich Specht

Our Last Photo of Rees

My worst day ever came on October 27th, 2012; the day I lost my 22 month old son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer (Rees) Specht.  One of the truth’s of aging is that the longer we live, the more loss we must endure.  In my forty years of life I have lost too many people that I considered close: My father, all seven of my uncles, my grandparents, cousins and even a best friend.  All of those losses hurt tremendously and, while I count the days they died among some of my worst days, they simply don’t come anywhere close to the magnitude of 10/27/12.  What may come as a surprise is that although October 27th, 2012 is the worst day of my life, it’s not the day that changed my life forever… That day actually occurred six days later.

Super Storm Sandy as seen from space

Super Storm Sandy as seen from space

In between my worst day and the day that changed my life forever was yet another milestone day: October 29th, 2012.  You may recognize that date as the day that Super Storm Sandy made landfall on the east coast of the U.S..  Storms don’t get the moniker “Super”, unless they are just that – and Sandy certainly earned her honorific.  I recall watching the damage unfold in real time that day. Living in a wooded area, I felt like I had a front row seat to a perverse ballet of trees and debris dancing in the wind.  I was transfixed as the trees moved in unison with the unrelenting winds.  It was at once beautiful and horrific. Every once in while the dance proved to be too much stress for the trees as their limbs and sturdy bodies fractured in the unrelenting winds.

The front row view of the storm provided a perfect symmetry in my soul between what I was seeing outside and how I felt inside.  The world seemed to be taking my emotions and manifesting them before my very eyes.  I felt so connected the storm outside that, at one point, I wandered out my door, ignorant to the pleas of my family, to be part of the chaos and embrace it.  I remember lying in my backyard prostrate as I challenged the storm to take me to be with my boy.  That moment never came, and eventually the cries of my family seemed to slowly ebb into my consciousness as they repeatedly begged me to come in from the storm.  I eventually made my way back into my home while the storm outside, and in my soul, kept raging.

When it became clear the storm had passed I made my way outside again, this time with no protestations.  My sister Kim joined me as I walked around my house to survey the damage.  Trees were down and limbs were everywhere, but my house seemed to avoid any major damage.  I looked around my neighborhood and, at first, I could barely make out the damage in the pitch blackness created by the power outage from the storm.  As my limited sight slowly began to acclimate to the darkness I began to see the tremendous damage all around me.  Once again the world outside seemed to echo the state of my tattered soul.  In a very real way it felt oddly comforting to see the world around me reflect my quintessence.  The world was as it should be… Shattered. In ruin.  Awaiting repair.

The physical repairs began almost immediately after the storm.  My soul, it seemed, needed to wait a little longer.  Four days to be precise.  November 2nd, 2012 stands out in my mind for two, very distinct, yet inexorably linked, reasons.  First, it was the day of Rees’ memorial – a day no parent ever wants to live through.  Second, it was the day the kindness of complete stranger changed my life forever…

I recall it was about midday on the 2nd when my father in-law alerted us to an unknown man walking to our door.  Before those words had a chance to register there came a knock at my door by the “big guy” my father in-law just described.  I hesitantly opened the door, not knowing who, or what, to expect to find a tall, older gentleman with a large build.  He was wearing a green sweatshirt adorned with the logo for Kelly Brother’s Landscaping on its upper left side.  What instantly struck me about our encounter was the man’s inability to make direct eye contact with me initially.  Rather than coming across as suspicious, it felt more like his lack of eye contact was a means by which to hide the sadness contained within.

When he was finally able to make eye contact with me his whole body shifted as if the words he was about to utter started deep below and had to work hard to leave his mouth: “I heard about what happened to your little boy and I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help.”, he said with a reserved assuredness.  Those words were not at all what I expected from a man who I thought was just looking for work.  A quizzical look must have formed on my face and I think my surprise caught him off guard.  He explained to me that he was doing work at my neighbor’s house when he was told about what happened to our little boy.  Without hesitation, he felt compelled to come over and offer some way, any way, he could help us in our time of despair.

I was so thrown off by his offer that my first instinct was to decline his offer graciously.  I explained to him that I really didn’t need any landscaping work right now, but his offer meant a great deal to my family and I.  He explained to me that his name was Bill Kelly and he was the co-owner of the company.  As the owner, he had no problem doing this and soon it was clear that Mr. Kelly was not going to accept no for an answer.  He reminded me that our yard was just as destroyed as the rest of the neighborhood and it would need cleaning.  I tried countering with the fact that I felt bad taking his work when others could use it too.  Before I could protest again, some of his workers had already started blowing the scattered debris in my yard into piles.  “No” clearly was not an option.

I told Mr. Kelly that we really could not pay him much since most of our money was going to cover funeral expenses for Rees.  He didn’t want a dime from us.  He just wanted to do “something, anything, to help your family in your time of need.”  He quoted his religious faith as part of his motivation, but it was clear to me that he was the type of person who would do this regardless of any religious affiliation.  When our conversation ended and I closed the door, my wife and my in-laws sat in stunned silence.  No words were necessary as the stunned look on all of our faces said it all.

The beauty of that moment lingered with us the rest of the day.  It was so powerful that it almost made us forget that later that very evening we would have to head over to the funeral home for Rees’ memorial service.  As the appointed time approached, we begrudgingly headed over to the brand new Branch Funeral Home in Miller Place NY.  The funeral home had not even officially opened yet, but they were one of only a few that actually had power and could take us.  That night went by in a blur and to be honest, with the literally hundreds upon hundreds of people that showed up, I completely forgot about the fact that the Kelly Brothers were at the house trying to restore some sense of normalcy to our world.

The memorial service ran over by an hour or two because of all the people that showed up and had to wait.  The night was so draining, and by the last few visitors Sam and I were completely and utterly exhausted.  When the last person came up to give their condolences it was well past the time we had reserved and Sam and I just wanted to go home and try to get the full night’s sleep that had eluded us every night since Richie’s passing.  The drive home became a welcome moment of repose in which the two of us sat quietly in the car, our somber thoughts loud enough for both to hear.

As we pulled into our neighborhood I recall being struck by the absolute darkness that the power outage, now in its 7th day, provided.  The only source of light was that of the beams of the headlights of my truck.  Everywhere the lights shone pinpointed the destruction that pervaded our neighbor’s houses and our block as a whole. The destruction was complete and it was everywhere… Everywhere that is, but the final house that the light shone on: Our house.  As we pulled closer to our yard the lights illuminated a sight that, if it were in the movies, would have been accompanied by the Hallelujah Chorus.  In front of our eyes was the sight of our yard, perfectly restored – standing out in stark contrast to the shattered world that surrounded it.

It was then, in the shocked and bewildered meeting of Samantha’s eyes with mine, that the supreme power of kindness manifested in the first smile that found itself on our faces since Rees’ passing.  One kind act is all it took to put a smile on grieving parent’s faces…  If that isn’t the most powerful force there is, I don’t know what is.  Mr. Kelly’s magnanimous act made us truly smile.  It wasn’t the forced smiles Sam and I had practiced all night.  It was an honest to goodness smile:  A smile that had no business being on our faces just minutes before.  A smile that changed my life forever.

Not coincidentally, that night was the first night since Rees’ passing that Samantha and I both slept through the entire night.  I remember that upon waking I immediately rushed to the bedroom window on the opposite side of my room to better gaze upon the work that the Kelly Brothers did.  Save for the pond which swallowed up my little boy, my yard was restored to what it was before the storm.  Once again I found that my soul and the outside world were simpatico with one another.  A part of my world was restored, and it was the kindness of one man who made it possible.

When I share this story with the students I speak to I often tell them that if the story were to end there, it would prove the absolute power that kindness has. But that is not the end of the story…  Later that morning we heard a familiar knock on our door.  Upon opening it there stood Bill Kelly, again not able to immediately make eye contact, trying his best to force tears back.  I remember him stammering a bit as he asked me if we were happy with the job they did.  My answer was as concise and appropriate as I could muster; I hugged him – not a little hug, but a great big bear hug meant to transfer some of the energy he provided me with back to him.  I was at a loss for words and I thanked him over and over for his incredible act of kindness.

When I broke the hug Mr. Kelly’s smile was all the affirmation I needed that his kind act had lifted us both up.  I could see relief and pride in his eyes that only comes from the satisfaction of a job well done.  No words were needed between us – the message was loud and clear.  When Bill finally did speak, the words that came out of his mouth were unexpected.  “When we we were working here yesterday we couldn’t help but notice that your landscaping was…. uhhh – asymetrical”, he said gingerly.  His carefully chosen words were his kind way of telling me that my landscaping sucked – and I knew it.  He went on to say that they had some extra plants that would otherwise go to waste and he had some ideas about transplanting some of our existing plants to help “spruce up” the yard.  Again, I tried to tell him that I could not accept his kindness.  Again I protested against his insistence that it was “the least I can do.”.  Before I could protest anymore, his workers had already begun the process of altering our landscape forever…

What I figured would be a one day job actually ended up stretching over the course of 5 or 6 days (I honestly can’t remember the exact time-frame anymore). Mr. Kelly was not present on most of the days, but I would spy him every once in a while stopping by and pointing out directions to his employees.  What I do remember is that after the second day of work, he did come to my door again.  This time I answered the door with a nervous apprehension as I knew It would be the beginning of yet another protest from me and Samantha.  When I opened the door he greeted me with those same sympathetic eyes, but this time they looked different… like they were holding back something he wasn’t sure he wanted to say, but couldn’t resist saying anyhow.

“What are you going to do with the pond?”,  was his opening statement to me.  He wanted to know what I wanted to do with that infernal pond that took my little boy from me.  It sat right outside our bedroom window and represented the literal and figurative hole in my world and I responded with the only truth I knew; “I am filling that hole… if I have to do it myself with a garden shovel, I am filling in that damn hole.”  Before I could utter another word, Bill told me that they would do it.  I put my foot down this time.  “No!”, I vehemently protested, “You can’t do that, you have already done too much.  That pond is huge and it will cost you too much.”  Mr. Kelly didn’t allow another word out of my mouth before his workers rolled up with a Cat dozer and began the process of filling in the void in my family’s world.

During the course of the five or six days the workers from Kelly Brothers were at my house Samantha and I tried to, in some small way, pay back some of their kindness.  I asked them if I could tip them and they flat out refused it. When I tried to leave a tip for them, they left it back on my porch for me to stumble over the next morning.  When we offered to buy or make them lunch, they graciously declined.  I asked if we could, at the very least, put up an advertising sign – which was declined (even to this day they won’t let me advertise*)  To be honest, Samantha and I got a little frustrated at trying to do something, anything, for them.

Our Daughter, Lorilei, running over the ground that was the location of the pond.

Our Daughter, Lorilei, running over the ground that was the location of the pond.

The greener grass is the area where the pond was located.

The greener grass is the area where the pond was located.

Our transformed yard

Our transformed yard

It was on the last full day they were there that I got an idea as to how to pay them back without them knowing (of course if any of them are reading this they will know now…).  I noticed that the crew went up to our local Italian restaurant that was literally steps away from my house everyday.  Figuring that they would go there again on that last day, I went up to the restaurant and handed the owner, Vinny, $50.00 and requested that he say that “lunch was on them”.  Vinny gave me a quizzical look, and I explained the situation.  He didn’t question me or my motives at all and took the money.  Later that afternoon Samantha and I spied the workers returning with a box of food from the restaurant and we overheard them comment on how nice it was that the owner bought their lunch.  Samantha and I high-fived each other, happy knowing that in some small way we paid back the kindness of the Kelly Brothers and their employees.

It wasn’t just the Kelly’s that showed us unbelievable kindness.  There were so many acts of kindness from friends, relatives, complete strangers that all served to lift us up in our time of need.  The one universal thing they all shared was their uniform denial of our request to pay them back after the dust had cleared.  Even the Italian restaurant followed suit, as the first night that our family went to eat a meal there, the owners gave us our money back – and refused to charge us for dinner, despite our protests.  Everyone said to us that the kindness we received was not to be paid back… it was simply a gesture meant to raise us up.

The amazing part is that kindness did raise us up.  That kindness provided a lifeboat that kept us from being sucked into the whirlpool of grief that Rees’ death created.  That kindness was the difference maker.  That kindness was the inspiration for everything we do now…

At Rees’ memorial my closest friend, Jim, convinced me to to address the hundreds of people in attendance.  I really didn’t want to do it, but he convinced me that it was the right thing to do, and that if I couldn’t he would speak for us.  I briefly thought about accepting his offer, but I thought the better of it and addressed everyone.  The words that came out of my mouth surprised everyone in attendance that night, including myself.  After thanking everyone for their support, the next words I spoke were a lamentation about why so many of the faces that were present were faces I had not seen in a long time.  I admitted the fault was equally mine, but I begged everyone there to focus on the things that matter.  I then pointed out all of the kindness we had already received at that point and understood its genesis.  I challenged everyone there to not wait for tragedy to engage in acts of kindness.

The words I spoke really got me thinking even more.  Eventually the science teacher in me took over and postulated that people were doing these kind acts to bring us back to “normal”. I rationalized that their innate compassion wanted to help raise us from the depths of our despair.  I likened that to a positive charge countering a negative and rendering the object neutral.  “But why do we settle for neutrality?”, I asked.  That night I proposed a radical idea to everyone in attendance.  “Don’t settle for neutral”, I proclaimed,  “for when you apply a positive charge to something already neutral it becomes positive itself.  Imagine if we all took the time to perform random acts of kindness to everyday people?  Imagine what that would do for all of us?  It would raise us all up.”

Little did I know at that time that the hypothesis I proposed was already being put to the test that very night. Just as I was addressing everyone at the memorial the Kelly Brothers were most likely finishing up the yard cleanup they were doing at my house.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that act was the act that brought us back to neutral.  When Bill Kelly showed up at my door the next morning, he took the next step.  His additional kindness, past the neutral point, is what raised myself and my family up to new heights.  That exceptional act of kindness charged me in a way that has yet to dissipate. That additional act of kindness supported my hypothesis even further.

What followed in the wake of that exceptional kindness resulted in everything that the Rees Specht Life Foundation and the Cultivate Kindness movement is all about.  260,000 “Kindness Cards” distributed all over the planet and over $35,000.00 in scholarships, grants and assistance is just the start of Samantha’s and my goal of paying back those kind acts.  It is our mission to remind people of the power that kindness has to not only restore, but to transform us.

That mission is much more difficult than you may know.  From the beginning we have met resistance from everywhere to the IRS, potential donors and everyday people who simply don’t “get” what we are trying to do.  Kindness isn’t a cause is the almost universal refrain I get.  We aren’t helping one specific problem, such as helping veterans, or feeding the poor.  The scientist in me was trained to look at bigger problems and find the root cause of its existence.  To me, the root cause of so many of the problems we face today is because we simply lack the inherent understanding of what the power of everyday acts of kindness can do for all of us.  In trying to connect those problems to a single nexus, I found that kindness was the answer to almost all of them.

I believe that the reason we faced some opposition to our mission lies in the heart of what makes us all human.  Our evolution as a species resulted from actions taken by our ancestors that ensured their survival.  Traits such as kindness, compassion and cooperation served as a way to ensure our ancestor’s mutual survival.  The problem with that evolutionary path is that the only selective factor is something that ensures basic survival – a net neutral.  If we accept this premise then it stands to reason that it is only natural for us to make sure our friends who are suffering are brought back to that state.  In an evolutionary sense, going above and beyond is not rewarded as it didn’t specifically increase survival odds.  Our instincts exist to provide a baseline for survival.  A starting point that tries to maximize our chances to live and ensure the passing on of our essence to the next generation.

I think the time has come for us to stop accepting the “baseline” and rise above those instincts. The real promise of the human heart is its ability to transcend our natural instincts.  We have been granted a brain that allows us to see past our problems and devise novel ways to solve them.  There clearly exists many problems in our world, and I often hear people lament that they “wish it was a better world”.  I’m not a big fan of wishes.  Wishes accomplish nothing on their own.  Wishes are a way for our brain to feel better about not actually accomplishing anything.

Stop wishing for a better world, and start making it one.  This is the point where most people give up, because they feel the world is just too big to change and they are insignificant in comparison.  This is where people just come to accept our nature’s inclination towards neutrality. Stop existing along the baseline! I am telling you that you do matter, and you can make a difference in this world.  The best part?  It doesn’t take a grand act, it just needs to put a smile on someone’s face.  The grand acts of the Kelly Brothers, and others, put a smile on the face of grieving parents.  Think about that for just a second…  It put an actual, honest to God, smile on our faces.  Sure, it took a grand act because the act needed to be commensurate with pain we were suffering.  Imagine what you can do for someone who isn’t in that place?  Kindness is that difference maker.  Don’t settle for neutrality.  Don’t lean on your natural inclinations.  Stop wishing for a better world.  Rise above with random, daily, acts of kindness, and you will raise others up with you.  That energy you put out there will not be in vain. I promise you it will change the world, one little (Rees’) piece at a time…

You have no idea how far one kind act can grow... For us, it all started with our little boy.

You have no idea how far one kind act can grow… For us, it all started with our little boy.


-Richard E. Specht

About the Author:

headshot squareRICH SPECHT is a father of four who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Mary Washington and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Stony Brook University.  Prior to embarking on his career as a guest speaker and advocate for kindness, Rich was a science teacher for 15 years at Great Hollow Middle School, in Nesconset, New York.  In addition to his speaking, Rich is also the published author of the award winning children’s book  A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness.  Rich and his wife, Samantha, are the co-founders of the ReesSpecht Life Foundation which they formed in the wake of the loss of their only son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer (Rees) Specht at 22 months old.  The acts of kindness that the family received after Rees’ passing inspired them to “pay forward” that kindness; which the foundation does in the form of scholarships for High School seniors who demonstrate a commitment to their community, compassion and respect, as well as the distribution of more than a quarter of a million ReesSpecht Life “pay it forward” cards.  The themes and characters from Rich’s book(s) are currently slated to become an animated children’s television series produced by Safier Entertainment.  The book and television adaptations of A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness represents the culmination of Rich’s goal to help make this world a little better, one Rees’ piece at a time.  Rich currently resides in Sound Beach, New York with his wife, Samantha, daughters, Abigail, Lorilei and Melina as well as his angel above, Rees.


*I don’t count this blog post as advertisement for the Kelly Brothers.  It is simply a retelling of a story that needed to be shared.  Thank you Bill and family for making a difference <3








imageWhen we get to a certain age we are told that the trappings of youth are nothing more than fantasy.  The belief in magic, fairies, monsters and Super heroes – things every child believes in at some point, ebb away with the steady flow of reality each passing year.  As we approach adulthood those innocent beliefs of childhood are replaced with the acceptance that “The real world” contains none of these things.  Magic:  merely an illusion.  Fairies: mythical creatures conjured by the human imagination – and existing only there.  Monsters: the only “real” ones are labels we place on the most abhorrent of humans.  Super heroes:  Colorful characters who wear their underwear on the outside who possess powers that are physically unattainable.  All of these things represent our desire for something more from a world that seems to take more than it gives as we age.  The older we get, the more we realize that reality can be rather mundane and dull  when compared to the future our innocent, youthful, selves imagined.

I remember a conversation I had with one of my cousins when I was about 8 or 9 years old, talking about Super Heroes.  I was on the precipice of the age in which I began to realize that they could not exist.  We talked, at length, over the improbability that a “real”  Super Hero could ever exist… yet through all of this, in brazen defiance of what I my 8 year old self knew to be true, I told her that I thought one day I was going to be a real life super hero.  I was convinced that somehow, some way, I would find a way to bend the laws of physics and I would become a Super hero that would change the world.  My 8 year old self truly believed that this was going to happen; to hell with reality!  I find it odd that I remember that conversation so vividly, yet here  I am, 30 years later, and I can still see my cousin laying next to me listening to me and agreeing with me.  I think the reason I remember it so well is because I never stopped believing it was possible…

I remember standing in the waiting room of the ER when the ambulance brought Rees in.  I was alone, pacing like an animal, waiting for Samantha to arrive.  The room felt like a prison that confined me within the walls of a nightmare from which I could not escape.  I remember thinking to myself that perhaps this was that moment… this was the time where I could break those laws and defy the space time continuum and reverse my chronological course.  I truly believed that if I concentrated hard enough I could will time itself to retreat and give myself the opportunity to save my little Rees.  I vividly recall tightening my face into a grimace and balling my fists so much that I could feel the blood rushing through my head.  I hoped, beyond reason, that the energy I released would tear the fabric of reality and restore my little boy.  If ever there was a time I could be a Super Hero, it was at that moment, at that time.  I screamed to muster as much “power” as I could and opened my eyes; hoping to find myself back in my driveway with a chance to tell my friend “I’ll watch him”… only to find myself still trapped in that room with the walls drawing ever closer.  All hope was gone.  My little boy wasn’t the only person to die that day, as my failure confirmed the death of the dreams of my 8 year old self.  I was human after all.  No miracles.  No magic.  No waking up from this nightmare.  Super heroes do not exist – they can’t, because if they did my little boy would be in my arms, alive and well.  Rees’ death killed my last vestige of childhood.  Wonder, hope, belief – all three, died with my little boy.  As coroner of my 8 year old self, and I must admit, I thoroughly examined it , and he was not only merely dead, he was really most sincerely dead. (Sorry, I needed a little levity here – apologies to L. Frank Baum)  With the coroners assessment I was sure that super heroes did not exist, and my world diminished that much more.

My world remains diminished, and always will to some degree due to the loss of Rees, but something happened tonight that resurrected my 8 year old self…  Tonight I saw the essence of my little boy displayed on a vehicle that would have made him jump with glee.  Rees is gone, yet his presence was tangible.  Looking at that truck, adorned with a symbol that represents what ReesSpecht Life is all about, put me in awe of the power of the human soul.  What I, and thousands of others witnessed, was an incredible display of kindness to a little boy none of the brave men and women of the Nesconset fire department ever met yet somehow he touched from beyond the void of death.  In fact, everyone who saw that truck pass tonight was touched, in some small way, by my little Richie.  The “R” on that truck was testament to the power of kindness that continues to permeate outwards from Rees’ spirit beyond corporeal plane.  The acts of kindness that Rees is inspiring can only be labeled as something super.  My little super-boy is an inspiration from beyond the grave – and if that is not the power of a super hero, I do not know what is.

I received a message tonight from a former student who called my wife and I an “inspiration”.  I told him that real inspiration comes from within… we all have it locked within us.  All we need is a key to unlock it.  My little boy was my key, and now, thanks to the selflessness of others, he can be for many, many others.  I can forgive my 8 year old self for thinking it was me that was going to grow up to be a super hero.  It turns out the real super hero was another Richie Specht who, through the super-powers of selflessness and kindness,  is changing the world in ways I could never have imagined while trapped in that ER prison.  There is nothing inspirational in what my wife and I are doing.  It turns out we are only the first pieces of a much larger key forged by a real super boy.  Super Heroes do exist.  I saw the proof tonight.  If you want to see his “powers”, just look at all the kindness his spirit is spreading and how he is changing this world one Rees’ piece at a time…

A Superboy...

A Superboy…

The following poem was written by a former student of mine.  I read this and was lost in its beauty and I just had to share it.  What a beautiful tribute to my little boy, and what we are trying to do.  I challenge you to read this without tearing up…



It was not the thunder echoing through the rooms,
Nor the lightning flashing across the clouds, 
That shook me to the bone.

It was not the chilling air,
Nor the pictures of destruction of the television,
That brought tears to my eyes.


It was the fact that I would never hold him in my arms again,
That caused my bones to shake.

It was the thought of never again seeing his beautiful face,
That brought tears to my eyes.

His beautiful blue eyes,
Like the water that stole him away from me,
Would never again steal away my anger,
Replacing it with peace.

His permanent smile,
Would never again wake me up in the mornings.

He is gone.

In the beauty of the sunrise,
In the majestic rainbow after a storm,
He is still here.

When his life ended,
I was given a new one.

A life with which I will put his smile,
Onto the faces of others.

A life where I will make my neighbor’s eyes
and Sparkle.


I hope that all is well… the thoughts and prayers of my family are with you and your family.

Sam M.

Thank you, Sam.  You made our Hearts Sparkle with your Beautiful words…

captain reesSince Rees’ passing I have come to realize that there are no coincidences…

Today was a really rough day for me personally, and I was just not feeling the Halloween Spirit. Normally, I go all out for Halloween.  One of the many perks of being a Middle School Teacher is that I get to dress up for Halloween and act out like the big kid that I am.  Over the years my costumes have ranged from as simple as Fred Flinstone (whom I share more than a passing resemblance to) to my most complex one:  a full, home made, Optimus Prime Costume. Keeping with tradition,  this year I was supposed to be Captain America, and the girls purchased a Captain America shield for me to complete my costume.

As the day progressed I just never really got into the Halloween spirit, and as time to head out Trick or Treating came around my lack of enthusiasm sapped my will to don my Captain America Costume.  I figured since  I already had a Superman Shirt on (I wear a Superman S everyday since Rees died)  I was going out in that alone and it would be good enough.  The look on the Girls’ faces revealed their disappointment that I was not dressing up, so as a consolation, I grabbed the Captain America Shield at the last minute and said I was  “Super Soldier”.  The girls both glared at me with a skeptical eye, but dismissed it as Daddy being silly and the crisis was averted.

So we headed out, the whole family including all of the Grandparents, and we made up for the Halloween that did not happen for us last year.  I reveled in seeing my little girls go house to house, dressed as superheros, like their baby brother would have been.  Fleeting smiles faded to imperceptible grimaces as I imagined Rees joining his big sisters for the first time and what could have been… what should have been.



We proceeded to go house to house for about an hour, and the girls scored quite a haul of candy that should fuel the next three weeks of sugar rushes.  Sam and I stayed back for the most part and merely kept a keen eye on them as they progressed door to door, asking politely for candy.  It was a nice family moment, the feelings of which eroded away my sour mood that marked the beginning of our trek.

Eventually, Lori started to grow tired and we began to make our way back home.  Abby and Lori both took inventory of their new-found candy treasures and their laughter and smiles served to fuel my soul.  For that brief moment, all was right in the world and I smiled.  It was at this time that I spotted another family making their way down the street.  I saw multiple children dressed as fairy tale princesses and various comic book heroes.  One hero stood out in particular:  Captain America.  A little boy, no older than maybe 5 or six was wearing a full Captain America Costume, with one glaring exception: his shield.  Without even thinking I approached the diminutive Super Soldier and asked him where his shield was?  His parents said he didn’t have one and I immediately removed my Captain America shield and gave it to him.  I told him Captain America can’t go far without his shield and wished the family well.  As I walked away I immediately thought to give them a ReesSpecht life card and realized that I had left my wallet in my car.  Oh well. I thought to myself, it’s the act that matters – Rees knows.  As we made our way home the thought that  I did not have ReesSpecht Life cards with me tugged at my brain like a child pulling their parent’s pant leg.

I really felt like I had missed an opportunity to share Rees’ message.  When we arrived home some 15 minutes later it was time for me to go pick up the pizza we had ordered earlier.  I grabbed a couple of ReesSpecht Life cards and decided that I was going to try and find Captain America’s family and give them the cards.  I drove around for about ten minutes before I spotted them, and when I did I immediately got out of my car and headed over to them.  My first thought was that these people are going to think I was some nutcase, or that I wanted my shield back.  I told them that I wanted to give them these cards when I gave their son the shield, but that I did not have any on me.  I politely asked them to pay the kindness forward and started to walk away.  It was then that Rees’ spirit intervened and the real trick and treat of this Halloween happened…

“Are you the father?” a woman asked.  I looked at this woman, who seemed vaguely familiar to me but I could not place her.  I replied that no, I was not the Boy’s father.  “No, the cards, Rees – are you Rees’ Father?” she said eyes wide open.  If this hadn’t happened to me before I would have been more surprised than I was, but with over 20,000 ReesSpecht Life cards out there, and 11,500 followers on facebook I am finding these moments are increasing in frequency.  I told her that I was indeed Rees’ father and what she said next sent a chill through me (rather apropos for halloween).  “I was the nurse in the ER on that day”, she tenderly said, “I was the one who wrapped him in the blanket and gave him to you”.  My whole world stopped right there.  I realized, in some ways, I was staring at the first Rees’ piece.  Her simple act of swaddling our little Boy so that we could hold him one last time was the ultimate gift in an untenable situation.  She gave us the gift of saying “Auf Wiedersehen” (I don’t believe in goodbye’s) and a last tender moment.  I immediately hugged this woman, whose name I forgot in the intensity of the moment, and thanked her.  I did not know what else to say.  She told me that what we were doing to honor him was “Beautiful” and I thanked her again and walked away, trying to hide my tears that just burst through the wall of my last reserves of will power.

I got in the car and immediately drove away, blubbering like a little child and thanking Rees out loud.  Again, he came to me when I needed it most.  Had I not forgotten the cards at home, or had I not had that nagging feeling to get them later this moment would never have happened.  Every time that doubt creeps into my mind, glimpses of Rees’ presence make themselves known.  In the past year I have seen too many signs, too many pieces of Rees to think that anything else could explain my experiences.  Today, of all days, when I faced a trial of life almost as difficult as losing Rees, he made himself known to me.  My gaze rarely needs to wander far to find Rees’ pieces – I find them everywhere now.  Prior to this past year I believed that every “amazing” or “unexplained” event we gave meaning to was merely a coincidence – a conformation bias we create to make ourselves feel better.  Rees’ pieces continue to prove otherwise:  I don’t believe in coincidences anymore…


October 25th, 2012, 2 days before the moment that would change my life forever, is a date that I remember for only one thing:  It was the day which forecasters confirmed that Long Island, NY would be struck by Hurricane Sandy.  I recall constantly checking various weather sites to confirm other’s predictions – and the ominous feeling that multiplied with each identical forecast.  It was unanimous,  Sandy was on its way and it was going to be BIG.  A so called “Super Storm” was on its way and preparations were in order.

The news reports were filled with the usual precautionary warnings of stocking up on essentials and preparing for the worst.  Lines at the grocery store were burgeoning by the hour, as anxious islanders attempted to heed the advice of our news anchors.  Normally, I would most likely have joined the throngs of people preparing for the worst, but this time  I took the storm warnings with a grain of salt.  I did not rush out to the store to stock my fridge.  I did not feel the need to fill my tub with water.  I did not board up my windows or even think about cleaning up my lawn furniture.  This time, I was firmly in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” school of thought.

My reluctance to immediately act on preparing for the storm was due in large part to events which transpired a year earlier.   The year before we were hit by Hurricane Irene, and though it was not as powerful a storm as the weather prognosticators had predicted, it did do considerable damage to the power grid on Long Island.  The entire area around my home lost power with one glaring exception: my street.  Hurricane Irene knocked power out to almost all of Suffolk county NY, except a few pockets that stayed powered up and we were lucky enough to be one of those few.  During the nights of the outage my home was an illuminated island surrounded by a sea of darkness.   I remember thinking that our neighbors must have envied our still intact power, TV and internet connections – and that they were probably cursing our good fortune!  I also recall Samantha and I standing outside at night in awe of the darkness that surrounded us and the site of a celestial sphere teaming with points of light we never could see before punctuated by the distant drone of generators powering a handful of homes.

Before Irene arrived I had luckily placed an order for a brand new generator for our property in Upstate NY. We were also lucky enough to set up a couple of teak patio sets in the backyard. The generator arrived several days before the storm was to hit and I felt reassured that in the event that the power were to go out, we would still have the comforts of 21st century living.  I was prepared for this storm.  I cleared all of the lawn furniture off our deck and from our yard.  I made sure to get to the store, parroting the mantra of other concerned islanders:  “Gotta get the bread, gotta get the milk!”.  I was prepared for Irene in every conceivable way, and waited for her to come and try and blow my house down – or drop a few trees on it.  Well, Irene came and went and we escaped unscathed.  No damage, nothing whatsoever.  My preparations were all for naught.  We had a generator, extra bread, milk and batteries and no reason to use them.  I remember actually feeling disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to use them.

I recall talking to Sam the night of the 25th of October 2012 about me taking a trip to our property in upstate NY to get our generator.  I hemmed and hawed about the prospect of making the trip, hoping that this storm would be no worse than the previous year’s “superstorm”.  I rationalized that since Irene was a dud, Sandy would be too.  I spent so much time preparing for Irene last year for nothing, I felt like this year would prove just as futile.  Still, Samantha ever the voice of reason, argued that I should make the trip anyhow… “Just in case”.  I did not want to go.  Perhaps it was a false sense of security buttressed by my experience of the previous year, but I felt like I was somehow “shielded” from any harm from this storm.  In my mind, this storm would be no worse than Irene – and as such there was no point in taking the time to do all the things I did the year before.  Irene’s damage, it turns out, did not manifest physically.  Irene’s greatest damage was providing me with a false sense of security…

I eventually, reluctantly, agreed with Sam and I began to make plans to go up to my property and retrieve the generator.  I remember asking Sam if I could take Rees with me, as this would have been his first chance to go away with me alone.  Sam did not like the prospect of parting with Rees overnight, but gave me the ok – no doubt deferring to my own feelings, knowing this would be a positive experience for both of us.  Things were set, I was going to go upstate on Saturday and Rees would be going with me.  This should be where my story ends.  The following words I should be writing should be a recollection of the great time Reesie and I had while we made our quick trip upstate.  I will never be able to write those words.  Instead of recounting a tale of a grand adventure of a little boy and his Daddy, the story is the one you know.  The decision I made at this point is what precipitated my fall.

I felt no urgency to get the generator.  I did not believe that this storm would damage us.  I falsely believed that my home was protected in some way and that getting the generator was not a priority.  Even with the prospect of spending time with my little man, I did not want to drive 4 hours up and 4 hours back.  Being the problem solver I was, I realized that I had another option: the easy way out.  It turns out that at this very time, my current student teacher, former student, and eternal friend, Bobby was at his college in Oneonta for the weekend to attend a mandatory seminar for student teaching.  Realizing that his school was no more than 30 minutes from my property I asked Bobby for a favor:  Could he pick up my generator and bring it home with him when he returned on Sunday?  Bobby never hesitated and immediately said “Yes”.  Weather be damned, I was getting my generator and I didn’t even have to go get it.  The machine that wasn’t going to be necessary would be dropped off on sunday.  No doubt it would never be used – but that didn’t matter now because it didn’t take any effort on my part.  Problem solved.  I think I actually patted myself on my back for my ingenuity:  “Take that nature, you can’t disrupt  my life!”, I smugly thought to myself.

In the two days that followed, with every hour that passed, the forecasts worsened.  Sandy was no Irene, this much was clear.  By Saturday, October 27th, there was no doubt Long Island was squarely in the cross-hairs of a monster storm.  That morning I decided it was time I took Sandy seriously.  I told Samantha that I would make the necessary errands that day to get food, milk and supplies.  I also told her that I would take care of the lawn furniture and clear out our yard of any potential Sandy-fueled projectiles.

Originally Sam was going to take Rees shopping with her and the girls, but his unusually cranky behavior was enough for her to leave him with me.  I told her I would take him shopping with me and that I would take care of the furniture later, or when they returned.  Time was of the essence that day; not due to the immediacy of the impending storm, rather because we actually had plans for a date night that night.  Sam asked me to confirm that I could get everything I needed done that day and still be ready for our date night at 5pm.  She was stressed, overwhelmed with countless checklists in her mind of the things that needed to be completed before the festivities of the evening  and the looming storm.  The tension she had in her chest was tangible, augmented by the girls bickering,  and Rees’ crankiness.  I remember thinking that our date night could not come at a better time to help relieve the stress that was building inside her.  She was upset, overstressed and tired which is why the doctor recommended to use Delta 8 THC carts.  I remember her angrily leaving our house, my last words to her that day to “not stress the small stuff.  We will get everything done.  Go out with the girls.  I’ll take Rees”.  I recall Rees crying, banging on the door as she left.  Little did I know that would be the last time he would ever lay eyes on his Mommy again…

As it turns out, our own “Superstorm” hit that evening that ravaged everything I was to my foundation.  This storm was a force of nature I could never have hoped to prepare for.  It left no physical signs of its magnitude and no visible signs of damage.  The eye of this storm centered on Sam, the girls and I, with our other family members on the periphery, spared the direct hit reserved for Sam and I.  Friends, neighbors and co-workers became on-lookers who did not experience the storm at all – islands sheltered from harm but within viewing distance of the destruction it wrought.  This time the roles were reversed:  it was Samantha and I shrouded in darkness while others lights kept shining.  Even among the throngs of family and friends, we were left marooned on an island of despair.

It is an unusual, and unsettling feeling to be surrounded by family and friends and yet feel so utterly alone.  It’s as if the damage from our own superstorm knocked out the power that illuminated my soul, and I was left in the dark – cloaked in a void acting like a one way mirror.  I could see out, but no one could see in.  That feeling persists, to some extent, to this very day – one year later.  At times I still feel like an “invisible man” that people look through to avoid seeing the damage done.  Most of the time it is hardly perceptible, but other times it’s blatantly obvious.  There are still some people at work whose interactions with me are terse and forced.  People with whom I used to joke around with or share stories about being a parent.  People I used to tease about their poor choice in sports teams and who teased me right back for mine.  Many of these people now just give me a quick hello, head down, eyes focused elsewhere.   I don’t fault them for doing it, but it still hurts.  The other night while I was out to eat with my Daughter Lori, a friend of a friend who would have normally come up to me and at least said hi, completely ignored my presence.  I know they saw me, but they kept their heads down and avoided eye contact with me.  I briefly made eye contact with them and they turned their head, feigning a yawn, physically disavowing any acknowledgement of my presence.  I thought about going up to them and saying hi and just being me, but it felt disingenuous, so I just left – site unseen, word unspoken.

I have come to expect that there is some damage from my own personal Superstorm that I cannot repair, no matter how much I try.  I also find myself on guard now for any signs of an approach of  other potential storms.  I find myself more protective of my girls than I ever was before – and much, much more concerned about their safety when I am not around them.  My pulse quickens with every scratched knee or mild abrasion.  I hesitate to let them play outside for fear of some unknown, identified danger taking them from me.  It takes all of my composure and resolve to make sure that I do not smother them, yet at the same time remain vigilant in their protection.  In a sense, I find myself now ALWAYS preparing for the storm, even when the sun is shining and the skies are clear.

It seems ironic that a day in which I was preparing for a storm now finds me in place where I am constantly preparing for a storm of another kind.  Storms, after all, are the manifestation of the chaos in our atmosphere and nature’s obligation to restore balance.  Real storms redistribute the energy of our Planet so that nature can regain its equilibrium.  Storms are agents of change;  a necessary evil that viewed singularly appear to be a terrible disruption but when viewed from a larger perspective are necessary to restore balance overall.  It is with this perspective in mind that I now find myself viewing the storm that hit me one year ago today.

Viewed as a single moment that storm seemingly took everything from me, but when looked at from a wider perspective it takes on a new visage.  Without my own personal storm ReesSpecht Life would never exist.  There would be no emails, letters and facebook messages from people telling me that their lives have changed for the better because of Rees’ story and what we are doing.  There would be no stories of a hurting father, lost in self pity, who re-evaluated his perspective on life upon reading our story.  There would be no college student whose despair over the tragic loss of her boyfriend put her in a dark place that only Rees’ light was able to pull her out of.  There are literally hundreds of positive stories that would not exist today without that storm that befell us.  While the damage from the storm done to my family and myself will never be repaired, I must acknowledge the overall good it is doing for countless others.  Without the loss of Rees there would never be ReesSpecht life.  The winds of change can be at the same time destructive and life-giving.  A tree felled by that mighty wind will also spread its seeds over a wide area.  It is the knowledge of this that reminds me that the seed sewn in Rees’ death have spread far and wide, and with a little cultivation from those who his story has touched we can reap a harvest of kindness that can change this world for the better…