I have not written in a month. 1 month to the day. I can feel it. My footsteps are heavier. My heart aches a little more. My mind is in a fog. Happiness eludes me even when I am surrounded by everything and everyone who should make it tangible. I should not be feeling this way…
Everything in my life is moving towards the positive. My newest daughter is arriving in one month. Our book is more successful than I could have imagined. More people follow ReesSpecht Life than can fill Citi Field (though that isn’t saying much these days, since no one watches the Mets anyhow). I have shared Rees with so many people – and he has made an impact on this world. Everything I set out to do is something that has come to pass, and yet I am forlorn. I hate feeling this way. I just want to be me – the sad thing is, until very recently, I didn’t know what, or who, “me” was anymore.
I think my first realization of this came when I met with a friend a couple of weeks of ago who I used to be exceptionally close to but have slowly drifted away from the past few years. It wasn’t until I sat and talked with him, really talked, that I realized we had drifted so far apart. It caught me by surprise just how far we had truly drifted- much like swimming in the Ocean waves for while, thinking you have kept your place, only to find yourself 1000 feet from where you started. I saw him everyday, yet I imperceptibly moved further from my friend on a daily basis.
He asked me a question that I still really don’t know the answer to: “Who are you now? Where is Rich? Is there a separation between him and ReesSpecht Life?”. I told him that I really couldn’t answer his question, that the only thing I knew for certain was, in many ways, the Rich he knew before Rees passed away died with him that day. The me that sat before him, wearing my ReesSpecht Life t-shirt, answering emails and texts about some foundation issue or another, was what came out of the ashes of my former self. Up until that point I always figured that the new me that arose was like the phoenix, born again; renewed with a sense of purpose. It was in that moment that I realized that the “new me” was actually closer to a tadpole that metamorphosed into a frog. Not a rebirth, but a change. I now think some frogs wish they could have stayed tadpoles…
The more I contemplate it, the more I realize that every parent who loses a child goes through this metamorphosis. It is inevitable. The hole that your child’s absence leaves in your soul demands something to fill it. It is the singularity of your core being that consumes everything around it. You cannot run from it, nor can you hide; the hole must consume something, and in the absence of anything else it will simply swallow your soul.
You may have seen the parents whose soul was swallowed by their loss, recognizable by their vacant eyes and mute hearts. These doppelgängers are merely the barely animated shells of the souls that left them when their child passed. From the start Sam and I knew we could not allow that to happen to ourselves. We knew, as most who suffer this loss know, we had to fill the hole with something, but what exactly?
I turns out that the real trick is finding something with a limitless supply to satisfy the void’s unending appetite. Many fall into the trap of trying to “drink the pain away”, seeing alcohol as an elixir whose illusory effect makes it seem as though the hole has dissipated. What may have begun as something to simply “take the edge off”, will eventually grow into something much worse. Sadly the imbibed drink only causes the hole to grow while, ironically, repeated doses of the elixir loses the potency of its intended purpose. Eventually there just is not enough alcohol to make the pain go away, leaving both the soul and its vessel torn asunder. The pieces that remain are the tragically metamorphosed remnants of the people they were before; unrecognizable and broken.
This was not the path Sam and I were going to head down. We knew we needed to turn to something that could feed the vacuum, but not hurt us in the long run. We needed something with an endless supply that would allow us to feed the maw forever and not destroy us in the process. The answer was kindness. Repaying the kindness we received in the wake of our loss was the only possible way to salvage our souls. If you look at others who have faced a profound loss, there is almost a universal response from those who transcend it: they give back – forever. This process is what becomes the metamorphic catalyst. It changes you, and the people you are around for the better. It’s a win win. Or so I thought…
There is truth to the statement that you can have”Too much of good thing”. ReesSpecht Life, and the kindness it is paying forward is a good thing. It is the reason I am who I am today. Yet it wasn’t until I sat with my friend, and had a heart to heart conversation with him, that I realized how much it had changed me. Kindness is transformative in and of itself – there is no denying that. I have witnessed too many people’s frowns turn upside down by simple acts of kindness to deny its power. Up until I talked to my friend, I falsely assumed that everything that had changed in me had changed for better. How could it not? Adding more positive to something can only make it more positive, right? Of course – but what I failed to see until my friend helped open my eyes to it, is that there is a consequence for every action – intended or not.
For every action, there is an equal – and opposite, reaction – Sir Isaac Newton
Something I should have accounted for (I am a science teacher after all) was completely overlooked by myself in my quest to fill the void: There are always consequences to your actions. As I sat talking to my dear friend, adorned with my ReesSpecht Life shirt, carrying my ReesSpecht Life phone, answering the endless inquiries I get everyday, I realized that I changed into something else I had not expected: Someone too busy to stop and smell the roses. The reaction to my actions was an entity (ReesSpecht Life) that requires so much time and care that I never realized where I was taking that time from. I took great pains to make sure that I made time for my family. I made exceptional effort to ensure I was handling my job as an educator with the same dedication I always did. I took the time that I needed to run the foundation and do those things because I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose sight of what was important. And, up until I sat with my friend, I thought I had covered it all. Time waits for no man, and in making sure I did not take time from my immediate family and my job, I unsuspectingly stole that time from my friends. The current dragged me away, and I never noticed…
No enterprise can exist for itself alone. It ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others; or failing therein, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist. – Calvin Coolidge
All at once I realized, that to my friends and more distant family, I had become the person who was too busy with EVERYTHING. In my quest to ensure that our enterprise does not fail, I was too focused on too many aspects. Too many emails to answer. Too many facebook posts to monitor. Too much time spent promoting a book. Too many hours developing a website. Hours here and there lost to applications for becoming a 501(c)(3). Phone calls to this person and that person. Too much time trying to satisfy the needs of something growing at an exponential rate. Something had to give, and what “gave” was my time for my friends.
I became that guy who was too busy to be bothered with the minutiae. The ocean was all around me and I lost sight of the beach. I drifted away because I let everything else get in the way. This realization hit me all at once, but I never said anything to him to confirm it. I made excuses about how hard it is to run something like this. I tried to explain to him everything I was responsible for and just how much time and effort running a foundation takes. I told him that Sam and I were doing this almost entirely alone, while others had this image that we had throngs of people helping out. He mentioned to me that others asked him why were doing so much and I explained and detailed everything. Explaining to him that no one stops to think that non-profits still have overhead and expenses and that money is needed to meet those expenses – and that as you grow those expenses grow with it. I tried to make my case, when in reality all I did was make excuses. I realized right there that I was in this position because I chose to take on everything. Like a swimmer who thinks themselves greater than the current, I thought I could swim against the tide and still make it to shore.
My friend made me realize the folly of my thinking. I need to slow down and accept the help of others who stretch their arms out into the water. I need to slow down my pace. I need help. In many ways we all do – but are too proud, or too ashamed to ask. In looking to motivate other’s to help others, I ironically stopped accepting that very help myself. This blog is my mea culpa. I thought I could do it all. I can’t. To any of my family and friends who are reading this, I am sorry if you felt that I was not attentive to you. I never saw it. I lost site of the beach. I tried to handle everything on my own and I nearly, figuratively, drowned. Everything I do I do to honor my little boy. His loss hurts as much today as it did yesterday as it did exactly 22 months ago today. The same 22 months of time he was in my life, he has now officially been removed from it. I thought I could fill the hole by helping others, but now I realize I will always need help to do that so I can help myself – and be the friend, son and brother I need to be.
My goals for ReesSpecht Life have not changed. I still want to change the world. My mistake was in thinking that to do that would take everything from me. I was wrong. It takes everyone: Friends, family and complete strangers. I just need to let them in. Thank you A.M. for helping me realize that. I am as determined as ever to make a difference in this world in my little boy’s name. I will never give up on that. I just need to make sure I ask for the help I need so that I can be the friend I need to be too. There is another change I need to make to ensure that happens. I need to let some things go, and accept the help of other. Change is difficult, but I am sure I can figure it out, one piece at a time…
As always Rich you and your family are always in my thoughts and prayers! I feel like we are friends even though we have never met! Keep writing because your journey is an inspiration to us!!!!