HELLEN KELLER: THE MEANINGFUL INSIGHT
“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new doorway to the human spirit.”These few words clearly bring to life the heart & spirit of HELLEN KELLER, the woman who fought and won. It seems that defeat was never an option to her and the limitations of her physical handicaps were only her majestic wings on which she soared into the skies of her dreams and touched amazing heights.
Hellen was born in 1880 in Alabama as a normal child and the beginning of her life was simple, much like any other little life. She came, saw and conquered like any first baby. At 19 months of age, when she had just begun walking and speaking her first words, a strange fever struck her, which left as suddenly as it had come, leaving her world in silence and darkness. She had become deaf & blind. From then on, little Hellen’s life was like a prison in which she had no rays of hope and no melodies of life. Till the age of seven when a divine figure unlocked the prison and set her spirits free. From then on, Hellen’s life broke free from all limitations and went on to touch the lives of many. Though she had no seeing eyes, the insight she gave to many filled their lives with the radiance and brilliance of ‘joy’. The wordless cry of her soul “give me light” was answered by her teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan. It was her teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy and most of all her unconditional love for Hellen that could soothe her restless soul and quench her endless desire for knowledge and life. Hellen said, “All the best of me belongs to her-there is not a talent, or an inspiration or a joy in me that was not awakened to her loving touch.” their association was for fifty long years.
Hellen had an inborn love for mother nature and many of her childhood days were spent in the lap of her garden, on the barks of trees, rowing boats or amidst the sun setting seashores. She learned many lessons from the trees, insects, and flowers. She often shared her secret fantasies with the blooming flowers and their fragrance nourished and embalmed her soul. She derived her relentless fighting spirit from the never-ceasing waves in the ocean and from winters turning to spring. It seemed to her that each human being had a capacity to experience and comprehend the emotions and impressions that have been experienced by mankind since beginning and blindness and deafness cannot rob him of the inherited capacity of this sixth sense which sees, hears, and feels, all in one. She wrote,” Everything has its wonders, even darkness & silence and I learn, whatever state I am in, to be content.”
In her early childhood days, she had violent outbursts due to the frustration of not being able to communicate her feelings to others. Her teacher soothed her weary soul and gave her constant inspiration to go on. Soon, she began to spell alphabets and then words on Hellen’s palm. The experience of knowing that everything had a name made Hellen’s life come alive in the most amazing manner. She had acquired a new insight and each and everything around her seemed to quiver with life and had its own unique identity. The first word with a name was ‘w-a-t-e-r. ’One day, the little Hellen asked her teacher an innocent question, ”what is love”. In Hellen’s perception, love was nothing other than the sweetness of fresh violet flowers or the dazzling sun that shone its warmth on all. Sullivan answered her pupil thus:”you cannot touch the clouds, you know, but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love either, but you feel the sweetness it pours into everything. Without love, we could not be happy.” In Hellen’s words, “the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched; they must be felt within the heart.”
In 1888, Hellen entered her first school, Perkins institution for the blind. She rejoiced to meet others who knew the manual alphabet and soon went on to gather lots of friends. In the spring of 1890, another dream arose in Hellen’s soul. She wanted to learn how to speak. Many friends discouraged her, lest it would lead to disappointment. However, Hellen was resolved to give new voice to her thoughts. She painfully learned how various words were spoken by keeping her hands on the person’s face and keenly perceiving the lip & tongue movements. Her first connected sentence was “ it is warm” and there was no stopping her as she spoke to the stones, trees, birds and everything around her. She remarked,” it is an unspeakable boon to me to be able to speak in winged words that need no interpretation.”In 1896, she entered Cambridge school to prepare for her college entry.
In 1900, her dream of going to Radcliff college materialized and she was the first deaf and blind graduate, in the annals of history. She learned literature, astronomy, German, Latin and most of all the science of ‘patience.’ She spent long hours after classes to recollect what had been taught and make notes as all her time in class was spent in the lectures being spelled into her hands by her teacher. All her books had to be in embossed/raised print and she had her own different typewriter. While the other girls were busy enjoying the pleasures of life, she tirelessly slogged her way to knowledge. To her, knowledge was not only power but it was pure happiness that made her rejoice in her existence. She said, “we could never learn to be brave and patient if there was only joy in the world.”
Other than reading the classics of great literature, Hellen had other varied pleasures and amusements. As a little girl, she had learned to row & swim. On rainy days, she often stayed indoors playing chess and checkers and nothing pleased her more than to have the frolic with children. She loved visiting theatres and art museums where she painted lovely mental pictures of courage and love by tracing the facial outlines. Her keen insight into human emotion brought even the clay models to life.
Her philanthropic outlook gave the final touches to her life as she traveled all over the globe imparting the precious gift of hope and joy to many of her kind. She showed to them, and to us all that the limitations of our bodies cannot shackle our souls and with hard work and resilience, nothing is impossible. She was truly a ‘world citizen’. The story of her life clearly attests to her moving words,” when we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our lives, or in the lives of the other.”