Rebekah Anderson — Woman/Girl Extraordinaire

It’s been an interesting week in birthday land, and I had already planned to write this post, but it turns out there’s more to this story even today, and there will clearly be more to come…

In the world of political correct language, I am not sure how to describe someone who’s “handicapped”. My wife and I have a very good friend who is blind, for instance, and is proud of it. She sees it as “who she was made by God to be” and she celebrates it. At least, I think she celebrates it. It is soooo far off of who I am that I just don’t get it and I haven’t read enough about disability movements to understand yet. In any case, she’s a cool woman and a good mother and a caring human being, so I’m glad to know her.

I have friends who work with the handicapped/disabled in skiing and the work that they do is incredible as well, but I understand that there are terms that are used and expected-to-be-used in working with folks that I would call “handicapped” or “disabled”.

I get it, in one sense. You don’t want to call attention to a person’s handicap, and you don’t want to say that the person IS their handicap or disability by any means. You don’t want to limit them or see them as limited, because they might not be. They are a person with …..(fill in the blanks). It’s part of who they are, but it\s not the totality of who they are and they should get help dealing with it in their lives.

At the same time, everybody loves an underdog story, which is why Hollywood makes so many of them. I had planned to share a really good underdog-makes-good story because I am so amazed at what the subject of this article has done. I wanted to give her “her props” for doing as much as she has already, despite overcoming tremendous odds!!! (isn’t that how they say it in Hollywood?).  But I learned today that the story goes beyond that, so here we go…

Years ago, two very good friends of mine from seminary who were  in love did the thing that people in love do – they had a baby. Their first-born is everything I would have expected of their offspring — he’s literate, good with words and interested in them, a little brilliant and a little goofy and into music — in other words, the arts is his life and they live in him. Brendan Anderson is a cool kid and I would have expected nothing less. He’s a Sophomore at a college in Vermont and he will add to the good of the world in some way or another. You just know that about him.

After these people had this baby, life led us to drift apart — they went to Maine and back to Boston. I went to Rochester and Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Northern California before returning back East with my lovely wife. Somewhere in all of this, my friends had another baby and they called her Rebekah. She would, no doubt, if the stars had been right and all was well with the world, have become as literate as her brother and able to withstand Monty Python and puns for the rest of her life. She would probably have gone into the helping professions as her parents are wont to do, and so on. She, too, would have been another great kid produced by great parents in a good, intelligent environment.

But the stars apparently weren’t right and all was not well with the world. Rebekah somehow, as a small child, developed cancer of some kind. Needless to say, her parents were “freaked” about their precious child having such a horrible thing happen to their daughter. My wife and I were freaked for them 3,000 miles away. Her illness deeply affected both of her parents and — with miracle after miracle — medical miracles, financial miracles, prayerful miracles, Rebekah’s life was spared.

As I wasn’t around at that time, I don’t know much except what we read on line about her condition and, later, that the Make-A-Wish Foundation had been really good to the family and they had gotten to go to Disney parks in Florida during all of this. In other words, the family had support, Bekah had support and good things happened. Bekah’s life was, as I said, spared… but her sight was not.

Bekah is some version of legally blind in at least one eye, but I think both to this day. As time went by, her parents divorced for whatever reasons, and I assume from my work that that was difficult on her.

OK, so she a) had cancer; b) became visually impaired ; and c) her parents got divorced. With this many things her in life by a young age, many children — maybe most — would have collapsed in a heap somewhere. Many adults, including myself, would have been “out of it” for years given these challenges. I’d like to believe that I could “recover” from all of these things and live a “normal”, productive life and be mentally healthy and be proud of myself for it. That would, as far as I’m concerned, make a great story all on its own — adult faces serious challenges, time after time, and comes through it all to be normal and live a healthy life. I see people all day who do just that and I am astounded often by how much a person can overcome to live a healthy, productive life.

Bekah, who turns 18 today, apparently didn’t take the five-or-ten-year plan to recovery that I think it would have required. She doesn’t really need the Theme from Rocky playing behind her to make it somehow. I don’t know how she did it, but at 18, even with all of this, she graduated High School at age 17, with her classmates. She was not a minute late, not a year late, not a decade late, but right on time. Given the number of kids I know who drop out of school, just that is enough to make a parent proud and Rebekah’s parents are. Your average kid graduates and that’s a moment to be proud of. She or he goes off to college, that’s another moment to be proud of. But, whatever strength, stamina, or blessing Bekah has makes it all the more impressive. I don’t know how she did it, but she did. Despite handicaps, Bekah pushed on against the current and became “just like every other kid” and did better than many kids I know.

Does the story end there? No. Because, in addition to overcoming obstacles to graduate on time, Bekah, in June of this year,  graduated in the top 10% of her class, was a National Merit Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society,  a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society,  received 2 scholarships, a Choral Award, an Achievement Award in Creative Writing, and something called the Mitzi Yates Award for achievement and leadership in the Academy community  So, yes, she’s a scholar, and a musician, and an award-winning writer and a leader. In addition to graduating from High School, of course, she is now the National Merit Scholar for Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Pretty cool, right? Well…

Today, for her 18th birthday, she went from her home state to Rhode Island to protest, in person, the haters of the Greensboro Baptist (supposedly) Church. That is, for her birthday, she celebrated in the service of others. I am astounded that I know such a child — so far ahead of so many people I know who grew to be incredible later in their lives.

All of these things, and I know her as “that sort-of shy kid that comes to my house sometimes and horses around with my kids”. Yes, Bekah is “visually impaired”. Yes, Bekah survived cancer. Yes, Bekah has had some issues in her personal life growing up, but I will be darned if I can figure out how she got to be … well, Bekah — Girl/Woman Extraordinaire.

There are resiliency studies in the field of psychology which describe how some children overcome diversity. The results are this: children can have horrible lives and overcome or transcend them with this one tool: there must be one person that they can always talk to about their lives, who will be both loving and honest with them. Bekah has loving parents, a loving brother, a loving aunt and wider circle of friends all of whom support her both lovingly and honestly.

These are the kind of people that I see in the world who overcame some obstacle or other. These are the people that I see in my office and the person I hope to be with them, that they might develop resiliency. This is God’s spirit alive in the world for “normal” people.

Apparently, if you start with the right genes, and add support-times-ten-or more, you get extraordinary. Rebekah Anderson is that.




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