By Pauletta Raines

Photo: woman with short hair, wearing red shirt, smiling

When asked to write a one-page article about Rebecca, I said, “Sure, I can do that.” After all, my training and experience are as a journalist. But as I’ve tried to put words on the page, I’ve found that there’s an indefinable something about Rebecca that slows my fingers on the keyboard.

When I look at Beck, I see a plus-sized woman with short dark hair, moving slowly through life, often carrying two or three bags: one for her 12-Step books and a handful of markers, one for her lunch, and one for “her stuff.” Rebecca has presence. She says hello to nearly everyone she encounters. Depending on the group and circumstance, she’s either an outgoing, enthusiastic friend-to-all or a respectful, steadying influence during times of stress or sadness. Among family and friends, her warm hugs are legendary.

Rebecca lives in an apartment in West Wichita and catches the city bus early each weekday morning for her job at the Kansas Elks Training Center for the Handicapped, where she works as a candlemaker. Candlemaking isn’t her only skill; she also contributes in other work projects, such as assembling notebook binders for corporations and putting together training kits for special education teachers. On some days, she comes home smelling like the air fresheners she’s been making all day.

Rebecca’s learning disabilities weren’t diagnosed until she was nearly 5, because they were subtle. Developmentally delayed, she began attending special education classes from Kindergarten through ninth grade in her hometown of Colby. Moving to Wichita in 1989 with her mom was traumatic, but the transition to Wichita Northwest High School proved a good stepping stone when she entered into “the real world.” With assistance from family, friends and social services agencies, Rebecca transitioned after her 1992 graduation into an independent lifestyle that she’s maintained since 1993.

As a child, Beck was slow to begin talking, but today, she’s not at all shy about speaking up – whether for herself, or for someone else. A phone is never far from her reach. When the department phone rings, her tone is all business: “Candles, Rebecca speaking.” Just after 5 p.m., her voice is end-of-the-day tired when she checks in with her Mom or her sister, just to ask, “Hi, whatchadoin’?” She positively bellows at sporting events, but can transform her demeanor in a nanosecond to a smile and a gentle coo when she sees a baby, whether two-legged, or the furry, four-legged kind.

People like Rebecca bring out the best in the rest of us. I recognize her as one of the most important teachers in my life. Having her around always reminds me to be grateful and to accept my many blessings. Every day, she illustrates the principle of doing the best you can with what you have to work with. Without saying a word, she calls me to be kinder and more gentle, even toward myself. She epitomizes the live-and-let-live philosophy that leads us all to a better, more peaceful world. People like Rebecca. What a blessing she is; what a Presence.