I hate that October 27th is THAT date on the calendar I can’t avoid. It’s a day that stands out, stark and unforgiving, etched in the darkest ink. Year after year, it approaches, unwelcome and unrelenting. Every year, as this date looms, the pain, sadness, and loss build to a crescendo, threatening to engulf everything in its wake. If time is a wheel, then the 27th is now the hub it spins around…
It’s hard to believe that eleven October Twenty Seventh’s have come and gone since my little boy, Richie “Rees” Specht, was taken from us in a tragic drowning accident. It feels like it happened just yesterday, the pain and heartache still as fresh as ever, etching that fateful day into my memory like a permanent scar. In fact, it’s only when I take the time to assess that scar that the realization hits that it formed over 11 long years. It’s all so surreal – as if time itself has played tricks on us, compressing a decade’s worth of emotions into a single, never-ending day.
As I reflect on the passing of these 11 years, a deep frustration wells up within me. It’s a frustration born of the belief that despite all the hard work we’ve poured into our movement, the world appears to grow colder and less compassionate daily. Even with over 850,000 ReesSpecht Life “Pay-it-forward” cards distributed worldwide – and over 350,000 students reached with our Cultivate Kindness programs, acts of kindness seem increasingly scarce. Nothing is more disheartening than witnessing daily a pervasive lack of empathy coupled with an increasing acceptance of cruel and crass behavior toward each other.
I am increasingly vexed at the growing acceptance of disrespect and contempt fueled by a sense of personal entitlement. I have to be careful to remind myself that, amid this frustration, one thing remains unwavering: Our commitment to honoring Rees’s legacy. His memory is a beacon, a guiding light that keeps us moving forward even when the path is shrouded in darkness and uncertainty. We are on a mission to make the world a better place, and that mission will endure as long as there is breath in our lungs.
Hope and resilience are the underpinnings of our journey. They remind us that change is possible even in a world marked by adversity. I need to remind myself to focus on the metrics I can quantify, like the fact we’ve distributed our cards globally and made significant strides in drowning prevention by reaching over 80,000 children with our “ReesSpecht the Water” program. I should draw hope from our new partnership with Life Saver Pool Fence Systems, aptly named “ReesSpecht-Life Saver,” which will be crucial in saving lives and safeguarding our children.
Hope is a choice. To be hopeful, one must have a perspective that allows them to recognize that light cannot exist with darkness to contrast it. The yearly approach of 10/27 always feels like a growing darkness in front of me that threatens to swallow everything I love. When we focus on the darkness, we lose sight of the light in front and behind it. The tragedy is that the longer you stare at it, the more blind you willingly become. The light is always there – you have to look around sometimes to find it.
I was just reminded of that light with the recent signing of the Hospital Water Safety Video Bill by Governor Kathy Hochul on October 25th. This legislative achievement ensures that parents and caregivers
receive crucial water safety information (in a short video featuring the layers of protection framed around Rees’ and others’ stories) when their children are born, laying a sturdy foundation for a safer future. It’s a testament to the power of unwavering determination and the belief in the possibility of change. Soon, new parents across New York State will all bear witness to Rees’ legacy and be armed with a light that will, hopefully, keep the darkness of drowning away from their children…
As I conclude today, I’m reminded that our journey may be arduous and face numerous challenges, but we will not falter. We will persist in spreading kindness, raising water safety awareness, and making the world a better place in memory of Rees. The pain of yesterday remains etched in our hearts, but our hope for a brighter tomorrow propels us onward. Together, we can cultivate kindness and inspire change, no matter how many years pass. Together, we can change the world – one Rees’ piece at a time…
RICH SPECHT is an author and public speaker who advocates for kindness. Rich authored the award-winning children’s book A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness. He and his wife, Samantha, are the co-founders of the ReesSpecht Life Foundation, which they formed after losing 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 eight hundred fifty thousand ReesSpecht Life “pay it forward” cards.
An animated television series featuring the themes and characters from Rich’s books is in the works. 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 and his angel above, Rees.
Looking for some inspiration? Book Rich to speak at your school, workplace, conference: www.cultivatekindness.org