I have been given the honour today to speak to you about Rebecca. What I would like to
do is to talk about Rebecca's gifts and talents.
Rebecca is a remarkable young girl who in her very short time with us made an amazing
impact. This impact not only had effect on all of us here, but right around New Zealand,
in the lives of other families, in the education system, the health system, the disability
support system and last, but not least, the corridors of power where legislation and
policy is developed in this country.
Rebecca is a TRAIL BLAZER!
Along with her mother and father, Jane and Gerard, Rebecca made a decision to live her
life in the community with us ... not separated away from the mainstream of life. Society
and communities are many times not accepting and appreciative of people with disabilities,
but Rebecca made this stand and taught us a lot about the value and dignity of disability,
by being here in this community and choosing to tolerate our ignorance and prejudice. She is a trail blazer.
Rebecca is a RADICAL!
Many young children with disabilities have in the past, been hidden away and protected
from the world and in effect deprived of their rightful place. Rebecca came out of that
hiding and became highly visible to her home community, her extended family, her
pre-school, her school, her Church, and her friends. She, along with Gerard and Jane, said
'no' to a protected environment and took a stand right here. She is a radical.
Rebecca is an ADVOCATE!
In partnership with her mother and father, Rebecca strongly advocated for her place in
regular school alongside her peers in a regular classroom. Her advocacy was forceful,
unwavering, focused and true. In her determined advocacy she created a precedent in the
education system for other young people with disabilities.
In effect she was not only a self advocate, that is she advocated for herself. But more
importantly she advocated and will continue to be an advocate for other young people with
disabilities as they strive to become an integral part of their communities. She is an advocate.
Rebecca is a COMMUNICATOR!
Rebecca did not speak as we know speech, but she was a powerful communicator. In her
own inimitable way she spoke with her mother and father and extended family; she spoke
with her doctors, her teachers, her classmates, her friends and the decision makers in
this country. This powerful and subtle communication took the form of changing people's
attitudes towards people with disabilities. She is a communicator.
Rebecca is a HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST!
Rebecca's life illustrated very eloquently her battle to have the same rights as you
and I. There have never been equal rights for people with disabilities in New Zealand
until July 28, one month ago, when an amendment to the Human Rights Legislation was
passed. Rebecca played a significant part in the battle for legal rights, by insisting her
community examine their attitudes, invite her, and welcome and accept her. She is an activist.
Rebecca is a MAGNET!
Rebecca had this amazing ability to attract and draw people to her. Once you knew
Rebecca, you were stuck to her ... just like a magnet. She had the irresistible qualities
of sweetness, tolerance and dignity that made her and makes her one of life's attractive
and memorable children. Her school friends experienced this magnetism. Becky was a good
friend to her classmates. One of her school friends was heard to remark last week,
"... I wish Rebecca was back at school, because I can tell her all my secrets
...". A mark of a faithful friend surely!
Rebecca is a magnet.
As with all trail blazers, advocates, radicals and activists, life for Rebecca was
sometimes difficult and painful. Sometimes the community's attitudes and particular
people's attitudes were hard hearted, hurtful and discriminatory.
She was sometimes alone in her endeavours; she was sometimes not valued as a person
with feelings, likes, dislikes, and aspirations; she was sometimes ignored; sometimes
people did not believe she was worthy of support. But in spite of these enormous barriers
she was willing to prevail and live the life we're celebrating today.
My family and friends have a game called "Brushes with Greatness" where we
try and outdo each other by relating brief encounters with famous people. These encounters
can be of a remote kind, in fact quite tenuous ... for instance my second cousin has a
friend who shook the Queen's hand at a garden party ... or my father has a book signed by
the Prime Minister. In fact Jane, Gerard, Debra (Jane's sister), and I played this game
for a while when I was up visiting Becky last Wednesday.
I sincerely believe my encounters with Becky have been brushes with greatness. This
amazing young girl had an effect on everyone who met her ... you never forgot her ... you
will never forget her ... a true sign of greatness. Her life on this earth has been short
and we've all be most fortunate to have had a brush with her greatness.
Rebecca has been more influential in her short seven years than many of us here will be
in our lifetime. All these gifts and talents she shared in common with her co-workers, who
are her mother and father, Jane and Gerard. Today we celebrate also with Jane and Gerard
who are responsible for this remarkable little girl.
I can't finish without also paying tribute to Jane and Gerard. They also have been
advocates, radicals, activists and trail blazers. Not only did they fight for Rebecca, but
they were also mindful of other children and other families. They have generously given of
their time, energy and compassion to bring the dream of a fully inclusive community for
all of us a little closer to reality.
I would now like you to pledge yourself to do two tasks. Firstly, during October,
Becky's birthday month, it is Rett Syndrome World Awareness Month. During October, take
time to think of Rebecca and reflect on the impact her life has made.
Finally, on the 1st of February next year the amendment to the New Zealand Human Rights
Act will become official. It will be a significant day for people with disabilities. On
that day people with disabilities will at last have the same rights as you and I and we
will start the journey away from charity, best interests, disempowerment, professional
control, cost effectiveness and categorisation to rights, choice, empowerment, self
advocate control, developing strengths and meeting individual needs. On that day, February
1st, stop for a while and think, especially of Rebecca, because she has made and will
continue to make a contribution to this movement for social justice and freedom. She has,
in her own resolute and quiet way, opened the door for other young children with
disabilities, so that they will be able to go through that door with a little more ease
than she did.
I'm glad and honoured to have been part of this celebration.
A reading from the Prophet Isaiah -
The Peaceful Kingdom
The Royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches
sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among Davids descendants.
The spirit of the Lord will give him wisdom, and the knowledge and skill to rule his
He will know the Lords will and have reverence for him, and find pleasure in
Wolves and sheep will live together in peace, and leopards will lie down with young
Calves and lion cubs will feed together, and a little child will lead you.
Cows and bears will eat together, and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace.
Lions will eat straw as cattle do.
Even a baby will not be harmed if it plays near a poisonous snake.
On Zion, Gods sacred hill, there will be nothing harmful or evil.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew:
At that time Jesus said, "Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because
you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes,
Father, this was how you wanted it to happen.
"My Father has given me all things. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no
one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
"Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give
you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and
humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the
load I will put on you is light."
Monsignor Brian Arahill
What we call tragedy often brings great blessings.
Both readings were chosen by Jane and Gerard for this occasion of celebration.
The first reading tells us about the Royal line of Kind David. It was indeed in a mess.
It was almost like the tree that had become so rotten that it should be cut down; but in
fact all it needed was a severe pruning and a new shoot would arise. And so from the
family of Jesse would come a new leader, first Jesses son David, but then someone
else would come, someone unexpected. Someone who would be THE Son of David. A little child
will lead you.
It didnt make sense, but then when you are grappling with Gods ways things
dont always make immediate sense.
That little child, born of Davids line, would make it possible for people to have
a new vision. Make it possible for people to experience goodness, experience God in a new
way. This little child, born of Davids line, would bring people together.
This little child would challenge: challenge people to serve the poor, to be aware of
those with different abilities.
Am I talking about Rebecca or am I talking about the Christ that we believe is the
ultimate from Davids line? Both really. I am speaking about the Christ that came
from Davids line and I am speaking about Rebecca as well. Because, (as Sue was able
to tell us) Rebecca brought a new vision to people who have known her. She has taught us
what goodness is, who God is. A little child will lead you.
Rebecca has challenged us, she particularly challenged her mother and father, to serve.
She has challenged us to give time to those who are a little slower in one sense than most
of us. She has challenged us to accept differences as gifts from a creator God. A little
child will lead you.
We know how precious are those gifts, how precious are those differences, because the
child of Isaiah, the child of Davids line, became the Christ of the Gospels.
The Christ of the Gospels would show that it is right to celebrate life. The Christ of
the Gospels would teach that unless you become a little child you will not be able to
understand the kingdom of heaven.
The Christ of the Gospels would celebrate differences, would celebrate abilities, in
fact the Christ of the Gospels would show that we need to be grateful for the differences.
The Christ of the Gospels, the little child of Davids line, would serve, would
challenge, in fact it is because of him that we have a new vision about Rebecca.
It is because of the Christ of the Gospels that we have a greater understanding of the
mystery of suffering as a way of growing to life.
In fact the Christ of the Gospels would change our outlook so much that we would know
God as the Abba, the Papa, the Mama, the Dada, the Mother, the parent, the father.
The child of Davids line who became the Christ of the Gospels would himself die
before his time. He would die young.
But hope for new life would come because Easter would follow Good Friday - light would
come out of darkness, and life would come out of death. Because of the Christ of the
Gospels no time is a long time or a short time. We would have, because of the Easter
Christ, the one that had originally been the little child of Davids line, a new
outlook about time.
We would know that Gods time is the right time. The favourable time. The
"let go", "let God" time. So we let go - grateful for the little child
that became the Christ of the Gospels, and grateful for the little child that is Rebecca
who now becomes someone with the fullness of life. Grateful that Rebecca is now on Zion,
Gods mountain, Gods Sacred Hill as the reading put it, where there will be
nothing harmful, nothing evil. Rebecca: we are grateful for that little child to whom
Christ now says "come to me you who are tired of carrying the load, and I will give
And we pray, that those of us left behind will carry out the challenges, to continue to
appreciate the differences and the gifts, we pray the same prayer that Christ prayed in
Father, lord of Heaven and earth, thank you, because through Rebecca you have shown us,
the unlearned, a little more wisdom. You have indeed shown us that it is your way, that a
little child will lead you.