I am giving up. Throwing in the towel. The writing is, and has been, on the wall for a while now. Rees’ story has been told and, in the end, people really don’t care about kindness. Our movement is yesterday’s news and its time has come. In reality, no real change ever actually happens. How was I so stupid to think Rees’ story could make a difference? The children in the schools I speak to forget about my message the minute they leave the room. I could have done so much more. Our scholarships don’t help enough people. Spreading kindness isn’t a real thing. It’s not worth it. What’s the point? People would rather read about the Kardashians rather than kindness. I’m doing this because I can’t let go of my dead son – and it’s time to let go…
I imagine that a great many people won’t read past that first paragraph. For many, I think that first paragraph would be the confirmation to something they may have thought all along: Good things never last… Yep, the world always finds a way to crush a good thing. That introduction would have confirmed their belief and they would move on. If you are here still reading this I applaud you. You are not willing to give up on the world – and neither am I. So what is with all the negativity I wrote about above?
The answer is simple: Those are the thoughts that go through my head all the time. Those are my fears, laid bare, that I wrestle with every single day of my life. The scary part is that those are just my fears in relation to our movement. I would need a lot more than a paragraph to write about all my other fears – and I suspect that you would find yourself in the same boat. Fear is a constant in our lives. Fear is natural and it can be a very powerful motivator, if not the most powerful motivator.
Fear’s motivational power has been used throughout the ages as a means of subversion and control. Our media is rife with countless examples of politicians, entertainers, and leaders using fear as a means by which to play on our emotions and elicit a response. The reason fear works so well is because it is rooted in our biological imperative to survive. Every human being has learned about the dangers of the world through experience. Fear serves as a way to remind us, and be wary, of the things that can threaten our survival. It’s only natural that we fear…
The thing about fear is that it is not real. It is made up in our minds to serve as a reminder, and nothing more. President Roosevelt was absolutely correct in his assertion that “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”. The President was reminding us that fear is only as real as we make it – and only as important as to the station we elevate it to. In a sense, he was telling us all that we really have the choice between fear’s yin and hope’s yang.
Hope, on the other hand is fear’s inverted twin. I truly believe that a line exists, somewhere in the primal part of our brain, that divides where fear and hope stake a claim to our souls. I imagine the fear side looks like a series of highway advertisements all crowded into a tiny landscape. The signs are brightly colored and flashy in order to catch your eye. They hold nothing back in their graphic depiction of every threat that faces you. The hope side is its complete contrast: Full of large, lush meadows and beautiful vistas – inviting and serene. The landscape is the epitome of Eden in its vastness and majesty.
One couldn’t be more different than the other, and at a glance it would seem the choice between the two is an easy one. Who in their right mind would choose fear’s frivolity and vacuousness over hope’s beauty and majesty? It turns out a lot of people. In fact, all of us do at one time or another. The problem with the division between hope and fear is that the road we travel between them has exits all over, but almost all of them lead to fear. The exit for hope is often obscured, or even worse, is only accessible if you travel through fear’s exits first. It’s not that we are choosing to get off at fear, it’s that it is often the first exit we see…
I will be completely honest; there are several times over the past three years where I came perilously close to getting off, and staying at, fear’s exit. One of those moments happened to me recently. Due to a scheduling conflict that I was not informed of I had to do a kindness presentation for a mixed group of students in the 1st and 4th grades. I have several versions of the presentation that I do which are geared for different age groups. My k-2 program uses the book I wrote and its message of kindness as the backdrop to telling our kindness story. I never actually tell those students that Rees was a real boy. They just see him as a superhero of kindness that wants to go out and spread the seeds of kindness. For grades 3-5 I do share some of our family’s story and a little about our movement. It’s a little heavier, but I do not actually reference Rees’ passing (I just refer to it as a bad accident). As an educator, I know what is appropriate for what grade levels and that is precisely why I made the separate programs.
When I was told I had to do a presentation to 1st and 4th graders that day, I found myself in a bind. I knew I could not do the 3-5 presentation, but I thought the k-2 presentation was too far below the 4th graders. Instead, I chose to try and hybridize the two together, and the result was not good. In the aftermath of that one performance, I did get some criticism that hurt. What hurt more is that it wasn’t the show I do and even though I put forth my best effort to compromise, it just didn’t work. It was in the wake of that criticism that those signs were calling to me and I was tempted to just take fear’s exit…
I actually received eight reviews on that one performance. Six of them were fantastic (rated excellent) – and 2 were not ( rated fair and “good”). I fell for the lure of fear. I only chose to look at those 2 negative reviews and focused on them. I started to question everything I was doing. Once I started doing that, the other questions I had started popping up. I questioned the financial burden I am placing on my family by taking an almost 50% pay cut from my teaching salary to spread this message. I started “rationalizing” that the reason I could not find a publisher for my children’s book was because it just wasn’t good enough. In fact, every thought I listed in that first paragraph came to the fore. Every single one of those thoughts made the bright lights and enticing lure of those exit signs to fear seem so much more alluring. I was ready to give it all up and accept defeat.
I kept driving. I know that hope is on the horizon, and I realize I need to stay the path, no matter how difficult the road ahead appears. Giving into fear is the easy way off the path. If I didn’t take that exit when I lost my little boy, I certainly can’t take it now. I realize that this movement will always mean more to Samantha and I than to anyone else – and even if we are the last two people to care about what we are doing then it is worth it. I need to realize that if even one child in that presentation was touched by our message that day, then the presentation was a success. I have to focus on the fact that change does not occur instantaneously… Change happens slowly, a piece at a time.
I am not giving up! I will never give up. I’ll use that towel to wipe away the sweat that forms as I push my way along my journey. I will decide what gets written on that wall, and it will never be “I QUIT!”. Our movement was in the news yesterday and it’s time will come. In reality, change happens so slowly that sometimes we can’t perceive it – but that doesn’t mean Rees’ story isn’t making a difference. If only one child has been positively affected by our message of kindness then we have succeeded. I can do much more, and I WILL. Our scholarships have helped 11 students so far who would otherwise not have been able to pay college expenses. Spreading kindness is not only a real thing, it’s the most important thing there is. Fads, like our infatuation with celebrities, come and go but Rees’ legacy will live on in every kind act performed in his name. I’m doing this because I will never let go of the love for my only son, and I will never let him go. He will be with me forever – and that love continues to grow, one Rees’ piece at a time.
p.s. A very special thank you to my mentor, friend and fellow wounded healer Bobby Petrocelli. Thank you for reminding me that we all matter, and that I need to keep doing the job I am meant to do. Your kindness made (and continues to make) a difference for me.
Beautiful story! Spread the word and pay it forward. Agiftfromouremma.com
I came across the post below on Hauppauge Moms today. I’m aware of your organization because I believe we have some friends in common. Anyhow, I clicked on the link to your site to find out more about it. I was shocked to see your post and clicked to comment with words of encouragement and got to read the rest of your post. Whew! Was so relieved to read the rest and find that you’re persevering.
It was just the message I needed to hear today. Hope you find the fb message below encouraging. It was followed by comments from other moms saying how their kids enjoyed the program too.
Pines parents – Everyday when I ask my kids how their day was, I get the usual – “Fine”, “Good” “boring” (LOL) Today, I had two excited kids telling me all about their assembly today that had to do with Respect for Life Week. Rich Specht came to the school to speak – https://www.reesspechtlife.com
He made an impact on my kids and we spent some time trying to figure out how to “cultivate kindness” and for that I am grateful!!! Just wanted to share a positive experience as I feel like we are sometimes always quick to point out the negative but forget to compliment when the schools do something positive!! Thank you Hauppauge Schools for that assembly today!!!
Thank you so much for sharing that. It really does make all the difference. Knowing that the presentation is reaching children is exactly what fuels my fire to go on. I needed to hear that today and I thank you for sharing it with us <3 - Rich Specht
What a beautiful gift. kindness is the ultimate act that can make or break someone’s day and their spirit. Thank you for sharing and may God bless you all.
I was moved by your story to carry on your sweet sons legacy with the foundation you started encouraging others to show acts of kindness towards others. The goals of your fundraiser are important and valuable for others. My husband and I lost our loving, kind and generous grandson last May 2015 and are compelled to join you to make this world a better place one “Rees” piece at a time. Thank you for helping us to move on. We are truly sorry for your loss.
Just saw your story on the Today show. I ordered some cards and plan to use them. I am in awe of your strength in this tragedy. I have a friend who lost her daughter a few years ago. To help her deal with her grief she collected panda bears (her daughters favorite) to distribute to children’s hospitals. It made so many kids happy she continued it and made it a non profit. Its been helpful for her. I cant even imagine the devastation of losing a child. To be able to turn it into something positive is astounding. Thank you for all you do!
It takes a lot of love to turn a tragedy into something that is so good for so many! I am truly sorry for your loss. Words are not enough. I watched the Today show and saw the raw emotion on both of you. Thank you for your inspiration and selflessness.
I watched the Today show this morning and although it saddened me to hear of the loss of your beautiful baby boy it made me smile to see what a difference you all are making for others. Thank you for all you do to make a world a better place for those in need. You are such an inspiration to me. Thank you for making a diffance. I cannot wait to share your story and website with others. God Bless You and know my prayers will be daily for you and your beautiful family. Keep strong because you are a blessing to all those who meet or hear of you!
A professor in one of my college classes once said it takes ten positive compliments to override one negative. I disagree. I think it takes many,many more to make up for one critism What is most baffling to me is how much I will dwell on a criticism from someone who doesn’t even know me. A negative comment or snide remark tends to replay in my mind like a constantly rewound tape. We all want to feel competent & socially accepted.
On the flip side of this is an act of kindness. Someone showing that they are thinking of you with nothing to gain from the action. Just a helping hand or encouraging word to build you up. I saw your story on The Today Show this morning & I began thinking of times I had been on the receiving end of cultivated kindness. The feeling can only be described as all consuming joy. A flood of happiness that washes away all of life’s negativity. Yet, what feels even better & lasts longer than being the receiver is being the giver. Just knowing I have contributed to something helpful or positive is really the best balm for our own personal struggles.
So I encourage you to stay strong & continue in memory of your son. It is truly amazing what humans can do for one another when we try.
We too lost our baby girl on March 17 2010. The pain of loosing a child is a kind of pain that is indescribable.. Bless you and your family for having strength to do this amazing thing. May everyone who reads this spread kindness to others because you never know if there is pain behind the smile. Thank you for inspiring me. K
I kept reading! I hate to say we experienced a very similar tragedy to yours and our baby girl got out of the house and fell in our pool. I am so sorry to say that I completely understand what you went through. God Bless you for making something amazing of a terrible situation. just saw you on the Today show and couldn’t help coming for more info to help and spread awareness. Thank you so much! Rees will definitely leave a legacy. <3