This has been a whirlwind couple of weeks. I really feel like I can’t tell which end is up – mostly because I find myself oscillating between extreme highs and lows. It all started with our discovery of the baby’s gender and it really has not slowed down since. We had our concert on June 6th, and while the music and performers were top notch, I found myself disappointed in the low turnout. It was amazing to see the musical talents of my former students on display, all for the love of a little boy they never met. I even had a chance to sing a song to my little man… a song made special by the teacher who inspired me to become a teacher myself. You can watch my tribute to her and Rees here (I apologize to Josh Grobin for my awful rendition… I tried!).
I was so nervous that night and felt my performance did not match the effort I put into it, but considering that the last time I sang in front of an audience I forgot ALL the lyrics to the song I was singing I’ll take that night’s performance as a victory. The song I sang, “To Where You Are”, by Alan Menken, Richard Marx and Linda Thompson is the perfect tribute to how I feel about Rees. I do believe he is out there, watching over me: at least I do most of the time. There are times when I doubt it. That night was bittersweet. We only sold about 89 tickets and I really hoped we would have had a bigger turnout. I was depressed after the concert and I really should not have been. It was such an amazing night, and I think I got more depressed as I realized that I should have been happy about how special the event was, not sad about the low turnout. Of course this realization saddened me further as I just could not stop focusing on the “whys?” regarding the low attendance. Are people no longer interested in supporting us? Are we old news? Did someone get a hold of college recording of my ill fated rendition of “The Ballad of Davey Crocket”? – (yes, the song I forgot the lyrics to was THAT song!). All of these thoughts and more poured through my mind that night as I tried to lie down to sleep.
It was in that time that doubt crept back in and I felt fraudulent for singing a song about what I believed to be true. As much as I wanted to focus on the positive, I found my emotional state would not let me. When Rees passed, the one saving grace I had was a belief that something out there was watching over us and this was all a part of some bigger picture that I could not fathom. I always felt like Rees was on a mission to change things for the better. The empty seats I saw looking out that night painted a different picture. I started to doubt everything I was doing and had doubts as to how I could sustain the effort to keep the movement alive. Thankfully, the intervention of my good friend, and ReesSpecht Life Board member Jim S. helped me to see the bigger picture and my crisis of confidence was abated, but certainly not erased.
Jim reminded me that the bigger picture was about more than the concert. It was about more than one event… or one moment in time. He reminded me of how special the night was for those who were there – and that for those people and my family it made a difference. What we do is about the collective good that we accomplish, one piece at a time, and I had lost sight of that fact in this case. He reminded me of our book publishing efforts and how we were on track to reach our goal. Surely I could see that the message of ReesSpecht Life was resonating with so many people – it just doesn’t happen all at once. The wise math teacher taught the science teacher the importance of looking at the sum, and not the individual integers on the other side of the equation…
That really pushed me out of my funk. After only about a day or so I was back to myself again and ready to take on our goal of making this world a kinder place, one piece at a time. It was in that time that followed that I heard from our local county legislator that the resolution to make December 19th (Rees’ Birthday), “Kindness Day” in Suffolk county would be made official. Donations to our book were coming in at a steady pace and it seemed like we would hit our goal. Things were looking up and we were moving forward again, full speed. Doubt was in my rear view mirror, and it was in that moment, while looking behind, that the breaks engaged and everything came to a stop.
With one week to go I realized we were further away from our goal than our average daily donations would be able to meet in the time left. I kept my cool, thinking that people were just waiting until the last minute. I rationed that with 38,000 facebook followers there was no way we couldn’t get at least 1% of those people to order a copy of the book that I put everything into. Of all the things we have done in the past year, the book remains (and will remain) the most important and special piece of everything. A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness is my love note to not only Rees, but the movement we have started in his name. On top of that, I also included the other “Angels” who served as inspiration for what we do and every single part of the book just felt “Right”. The illustrations were beyond gorgeous, and the story really conveyed our message so that a child could grasp it. The inclusion of “Seeds of Kindness” cards at the end of the book would allow children the opportunity to see the power of kindness for themselves. Everyone who read copies of the book at various stages all had the same response: it was a beautiful message and fitting tribute to my little boy. Other than my own flesh and blood, there is nothing in this world that I am more proud of than this book.
In many ways the book is like another child of mine. Parts of me, mixed with parts of Samantha and our families came to create something out of pure love that we have the highest hopes of it entering the world and making a difference. It is our sincere hope that the story will resonate with children and that the message is something they will carry with them for all of their days. In other ways the book is the manifestation of everything we have left of Rees. His memory, his legacy, his heart and his soul. I really want this book to succeed for no other reason than I had no control over his fate, but I feel like I have control over his legacy. I want to help make this world a better place in his name and I put everything into the book that I could – just like every parent puts everything they are into making the lives of their children as successful as possible.
The part I forgot, was that parents can’t live for their child. Once they enter the world on their own, a parent can really only help provide guidance to their children through life’s obstacles but cannot steer them through them. As a parent, our instinct is to protect our children from everything, but in reality we find we can only protect them so much before they venture out on their own path. The same is true of our book. I gave it all I had, put everything I could into helping be successful and now I have to hope for the best. Unfortunately, its the hope part that is getting to me. Hope only goes so far before reality rears its sometimes ugly head and pierces the veil of hope. When that happens, doubt comes right back in; the uninvited guest of reality.
Yesterday, reality hit me hard. It was a sucker punch really. I was so blinded by hope that I really didn’t see the reality of the fact that, barring a miracle, we were just not going to hit our goal. While it may appear that the goal of $20,000.00 was an arbitrary number, it was not. That is amount that was calculated that we would need to earn, minus the fees from credit and paypal processing and the fee from Indiegogo (the site hosting the crowd funder), to be able to print all book orders and have enough books to supply to teachers and schools that would be willing to institute character based learning lessons on the power of kindness. Sadly, when you don’t reach your goal figure with Indiegogo, they claim 10% of your pre-goal donations in addition to credit card fees and paypal fees. In short, we will be able to fulfill orders made, but we wont have enough to provide for the programs we wish to offer. Ironically, it was yesterday- father’s day of all days, that I realized we were most likely not going to make it. Combine that realization with the already mixed emotions I was experiencing on a day that should only be positive and it created an opportunity for doubt to return – yet this time it did not creep in: It entered like a super nova, obliterating everything in its path.
I can’t express the low I hit last night. I doubted everything. I doubted what we could possibly do to make a difference in our boy’s name. I found the cynicism that I thought I vanquished after Rees’ passing was alive and well, hiding in a corner of my soul, waiting for the opportune moment to come back out. All at once I was depressed, sad, angry and cynical… a powerful combination for making bad decisions and forging regrets. I felt like I was on a figurative ledge, with ReesSpecht Life the building upon which I was perched, and release from all the stresses, doubts and worries being the pavement, far below. I think I was almost ready to make the leap – if not for the intervention of my sister who talked me down. She backed me off the ledge and helped me regain my focus. Yet, just like a literal “jumper” who is talked away from leaping, just backing off the ledge does not fix the problem. My hopelessness was still there. I couldn’t see the beliefs and dreams that built the foundation of the very precipice of which I was ready to leap. I asked Rees for help to remind me. I spoke to him last night before I went to sleep. I begged him, again, to help remind me. My hope was shattered so badly this time though that regardless of the innumerable times he has answered me, regardless of the rainbows he sent – I just didn’t believe it at the time…
And yet again, my little boy proved to me that he is here. Just when all hope was lost, when all faith I had was being questioned, I received a message that was so loud and clear that I thought I really may be insane to even question my beliefs ever again. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – then I must be. Every single time I have questioned why we are doing this, something has come along to set me back on the path. I almost think the Rees must be getting tired of sending me signals (sorry kid, your Dad is a little stuborn…). The sign I got was a message from a parent in my email this morning. To be honest, I sometimes fear parent emails this time of year because many times they are inquiries about why their child received this grade or that grade. As soon as I started reading this message, I realized it was anything but that, and I started openly weeping in my empty classroom.
I wont go into details about the note, just to say that it literally reaffirmed everything we have been trying to do. Our mission has made a difference in a young girl’s life. What more can I ask? If nothing else, there is a girl who has been touched by Rees’ spirit and her life is better because of it. The message I received today reminded me of our very motto to make a difference “One Rees’ piece at a time…”. It bothers me that doubt still has such a strong, periodic hold on me, but it’s moments like these that serve as the constant reminders that what we are doing is making a difference. It’s not donations and dollars that make the difference in what we do, its the currency of the heart and soul of human kindness made tangible that is. Thank you Hannah for reminding me why we are doing what we do. It means the world to us, and well, I keep saying we want to change the world – I just sometimes forget that world includes us too! I can’t promise that doubt wont creep back in from time to time, but God help me if ever stop believing. The signs are many. The tangible proof we are making a difference is out there. I believe. I believe.