Becca Turns Eleven

Happy 11th birthday, Becca. I hope you eat enough cake to qualify as a misdemeanor.

There is one thing I want you to remember on this wondrous day:

Whenever you think you’ve had too much cake, whenever you think your tummy can’t hold any more, force yourself to eat ONE more teensy-weensy little slice.

Because one can never eat enough cake.

Being 11 is pretty fun. It is, however, the beginning of the end. Because next year you’ll be 12, well on your way to teenagehood. And you’ll suddenly know it all.

When I was 13, I thought my mother was so incredibly ignorant it was staggering. Then I turned 20 and I was shocked at how much my mother had learned in those seven years.

But you aren’t like me. I was a dense boy. You, on the other hand, are a wise child.

You’ve been through a lot in your life. Your story isn’t mine to tell, but I’ll hit the highlights:

Your biological mother was an addict. You were left lying on your backside for the first several months of your infancy so that the back of your head was flat. You are blind.

But you were adopted by unbelievably beautiful parents, and you have become the most impressive person I have ever met. Hands down.

For starters, after you went blind, you could have given up. You could have quit trying. Instead, you started taking up new life skills.

You tried out for your school play and landed a major role. You wrote poetry. You took up new musical instruments such as the harp, the cigar-box guitar, the piano, and you started taking singing lessons. You started learning braille.

I’ll never forget when we first met. We were at a restaurant. And do you know what I noticed about you first? You laughed a lot.

You laughed without abandon. Without holding back. You cackled good and hard.

At the time, you had a scar on your neck where doctors had removed your lymph node. At the time, you were waiting to learn whether you had cancer. At the time, you had every right not to laugh.

And yet you did. Yours isn’t just a minor laugh, either. It is the kind of laugh where you clap your hands and gasp for air. Sometimes you slap the table.

That day, you ordered chicken fingers and French fries. And I was astounded because THAT’S WHAT I ALWAYS ORDER. And just before I opened my mouth to order a side of ranch dressing—guess what—you YOU ORDERED A SIDE OF RANCH.

At this moment I knew we were blood kin. Because I eat everything with ranch. Even old napkins and pieces of shoe leather.

So anyway, the waitress brought our twin ranch orders, and we toasted French fries. Then, you said a prayer over our meal wherein you thanked God for everything. Even little things that nobody ever pays attention to in life.

And when your prayer finished, several in the restaurant had to blow their noses loudly into their handkerchiefs.

You are a rare person. But you’re more than that. Your specialness, your honest smile, your cheerfulness, it bleeds off onto others. Your perseverance is bleeding off onto me. I can feel it.

Because, you see, I’ve had a rough life, too. Not the same as you. But it’s been difficult. My story doesn’t matter, not for the purposes of this column.

But the point is, I wasn’t as resilient as you. I did not laugh when I was 11. I was somber and serious after the traumas my family endured. I was quiet. I was scared. Sometimes I went whole months without laughing. Years even.

But it’s people like you who have been teaching me to live. Unique humans like you have steadily taught me how to find myself. How to be myself. How to love myself.

And the crazy thing is, wonderful humans like you usually don’t think they’re anything special.

In fact, I’ll bet you don’t think you’re phenomenal. I’ll bet you think you’re just an ordinary 11-year-old girl, having an ordinary 11-year-old-girl birthday party.

I’ll bet sometimes you wake up and have bad days. I’ll bet sometimes you wonder if anyone in this world even notices you.

The answer is yes, Becca. Yes, we notice you. Yes, a thousand times over. Yes, ten times ten thousand. We notice you. And you make us want to be better people.

You make the shriveled heart of this ordinary middle-aged man feel glad. Happy birthday.

Remember what I said about the cake.


  1. Debbie M Allen - March 1, 2023 7:36 am

    Happy birthday, Becca

  2. Sandi. - March 1, 2023 7:58 am

    I hope young Becca has a special, memorable, delightful 11th birthday! Sean, can she access your post about her and read it in Braille?

  3. Dolores - March 1, 2023 10:31 am

    Joy is not in things; it is in us. -Richard Wagner

    Happiness is fleeting and fickle, dependent on circumstances. Circumstances over which we have very little control. Joy belongs to the wise.
    Becca sounds like the serenity prayer personified.

    Happy Birthday, wise one!
    Great job, Becca’s parents.

  4. Cindy Gallop - March 1, 2023 11:03 am

    Touched my shriveled heart too! ….I like the saying….”the great person is he who never loses his child’s heart”! I believe Becca will always reflect this heart condition!

  5. Joy Jacobs - March 1, 2023 11:05 am


  6. Renee Welton - March 1, 2023 11:11 am

    Loved this so much💝. And Sean, you ARE special too, we all are! Thank you once again for this, this special thing you do, it makes my day better. A bit of sunshine everyday…I’m in Michigan and we need all the sunshine we can get.

  7. Kathy Compton - March 1, 2023 11:29 am

    Becca sounds like an awesome young lady. Sure wish I could meet her. Thanks for the encouraging column.

  8. Emily Carter - March 1, 2023 11:54 am

    Love it! HBD, Becca.

  9. Rosemary - March 1, 2023 11:59 am

    Happy Birthday, Becca! You are incredible!!

  10. Melissa Brown - March 1, 2023 12:09 pm

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY BECCA – you surely make this old lady feel good today. What a wonderful girl you are. Please eat a BIG piece of birthday cake for me. Thank you Sean for this beautiful story ♥️🎂🎁🥳

  11. Linda Hubbard - March 1, 2023 12:25 pm


  12. Farris Jones - March 1, 2023 12:45 pm

    Hppy, Happy, Happy Birthday Becca!!!

  13. Debbie g - March 1, 2023 12:57 pm

    Happiest birthday Becca. What an inspiration you are to me!!!!
    And our amazing Sean. You are loved
    And love to all. Pass it on for Becca today

  14. Linda Lewis - March 1, 2023 1:27 pm

    What a beautiful story. I could just hear her laughing and see her beautiful smile. I love reading your column each day. Thank you.

  15. WILLIAM McGOLDRICK - March 1, 2023 1:35 pm

    What a beautiful story about a beautiful child. Happy birthday, Becca! May God bless you with a year full of happiness, joy and good health!

  16. Jenny - March 1, 2023 2:33 pm

    What a sweet birthday gift you have given Becca! 🎂

  17. Anne Arthur - March 1, 2023 2:37 pm

    Happy birthday to you, Becca, the sunshine in this complicated world. May God keep showering you with blessings and joy.

  18. Patricia Gibson - March 1, 2023 2:59 pm

    God’s angel here to teach us how to live! Happy Birthday to Becca🎈

  19. hjlayman - March 1, 2023 3:05 pm

    Doggone it, Sean…you make me cry every morning! No….that doesn’t mean I will quit reading, but I do make sure that (usually) I am alone to soak in the inspiration, so my family doesn’t think I am “tearful” (as in depressed). God has blessed you with a gift we don’t all have…of seeing the true person, not just the shell on the outside we cultivate. Thank you.

  20. Connie - March 1, 2023 4:08 pm

    Happy birthday Becca. I hope it’s splendid!!

  21. charles Farrell - March 1, 2023 4:14 pm

    Wondering what future awaits Becca, Kristin Hanna’s book “Great Alone” brings Leni, a 13 year old, to life in remote Alaska. Father, a returned POW from Vietnam. with reoccurring destructive nightmares. Leni is caught up in a world of ice and snow far from but a few caring neighbors.
    Leni, like Recca, is a survivor, at least so far as I read the book. Thanks Shawn C Farrell

  22. Barbarann Beckett - March 1, 2023 4:30 pm

    Had to grab the tissue box for this one.

  23. Kate - March 1, 2023 4:52 pm

    I woke this morning and my first thought was the realization that I haven’t smiled in a long time and I can’t remember when I have laughed.

    Thank you for reminding me

  24. Linda Moon - March 1, 2023 5:28 pm

    I can hear Becca laughing now. It heals so much….laughter, that is. I’m glad you’ve learned a lot from Becca and others, Sean. I learn a lot from you almost everyday myself, especially on Becca’s birthday just now!

  25. Cece Parsons Mills - March 1, 2023 5:58 pm

    🥰 You are the best!

  26. Becky Souders - March 1, 2023 6:25 pm

    Happy Birthday, Becca. Sean… your greetings to Becca fall just a few days after my own 80th birthday, so I’m taking them personally! Great column, Sean Dietrich, like always.

  27. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - March 1, 2023 6:41 pm

    Happy birthday to Becca! I hope you have a wonderful day and eat cake!

  28. Chris Spencer - March 1, 2023 6:58 pm

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY BECCA!!!!! And thank you for showing us that even in the midst of life’s trials the best thing we can do is to laugh and stay happy. May God always bless you.

  29. MAM - March 1, 2023 9:11 pm

    A huge Happy Birthday to Becca; and many more (sung)! And Sean, a huge thank you to you for relating these heart-warming stories that always give a boost to our day, sometimes through happy or sad tears.

  30. Karen - March 1, 2023 10:21 pm

    Happy Birthday to Becca. There’s nothing like find a soulmate.

  31. Marcella - March 1, 2023 10:47 pm

    Beautiful and something for us all to aspire to

  32. Denise in Michigan - March 1, 2023 11:31 pm

    You really see people Sean. You see who they are on the inside. Your writing brings this all to life. I love looking at the world through your eyes.

  33. Ginny Andersen - March 1, 2023 11:58 pm

    I am a follower and wondering why, in the last couple of days, I have begun receiving 2 of the daily post. One of them has (new post) added to the column’s title. Should I unsubscribe to one of the messages I am now receiving?

  34. Linda Moon - March 2, 2023 12:48 am

    Me too, Ginny. One of the two seems to be coming from Substack, which I know very little about. Maybe another regular SOS reader will reply and let us know what happened!

  35. Malaya Penner - March 2, 2023 3:04 am

    Happy birthday Becca!!!

  36. Larry Wall - March 3, 2023 11:59 pm

    Wow, BECCA, you are an amazing and beautifully spirited young lady. You possess everything that it takes to be successful in your life and you will be. A great big Happy Birthday to you to from someone who admires who you are.


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