Sunday, February 10, 2008

promise of a bloom


I recently read Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. I have always loved what I have learned about Helen Keller and I have found endless inspiring quotes from her. They are always so simple, inspiring and profound at the same time. Things like, “One can never consent to creep when one has an impulse to soar.” And, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” I was at the library and happened upon the book and was surprised that it had never occurred to me that I could read a book about her life written in her own words.

She was born seeing and hearing, but when she was almost two, just learning to speak, a horrible fever left her alone in a dark and silent world. I don’t mean to give you a lesson right here on my blog about her, but I just keep going back to that—complete darkness! Complete silence! How do you connect with the world around you? How do you learn to communicate?

Well, just as inspiring as Helen herself, is the amazing woman whose life’s work it was to become Helen’s eyes and ears at the age of six, Elizabeth Sullivan. Theirs is a story of uncanny progression and amazing love. Here is an excerpt from the book:

…Miss Sullivan put her arm gently round me and spelled into my hand, ‘I love Helen.’

“What is love?” I asked.

She drew me closer to her and said, “It is here,” pointing to my heart, whose beats I was conscious of for the first time. Her words puzzled me very much because I did not then understand anything unless I touched it.

I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words, half in signs, a question which meant, “Is love the sweetness of flowers?”

“No,” said my teacher.

Again I thought. The warm sun was shining on us.

“Is this not love?” I asked, pointing in the direction from which the heat came, “Is this not love?”

It seemed to me that there could be nothing more beautiful than the sun, whose warmth makes all things grow. But Miss Sullivan shook her head, and I was greatly puzzled and disappointed. I thought it strange that my teacher could not show me love.

A day or two afterward I was stringing beads of different sizes in symmetrical groups—two large beads, three small ones, and so on. I had made many mistakes, and Miss Sullivan had pointed them out again and again with gentle patience. Finally I noticed a very obvious error in the sequence and for an instant I concentrated my attention on the lesson and tried to think how should have arranged the beads. Miss Sullivan touched my forehead and spelled with decided emphases, “Think.”

In a flash I knew that the word was the name of the process that was going on in my head. This was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea.

For a long time I was still—I was not thinking of the beads in my lap, but trying to find a meaning for “love” in the light of this new idea. The sun had been under a cloud all day, and there had been brief showers; but suddenly the sun broke forth in all its southern splendor.

Again I asked my teacher, “Is this not love?”

“Love is something like the clouds that were in the sky before the sun came out,” she replied. Then in simpler words than these, which at that time I could not have understood, she explained: “You cannot touch the clouds, you know; but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and the thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love either; but you feel the sweetness that it pours into everything. Without love you would not be happy or want to play.”

The beautiful truth burst upon my mind—I felt that there were invisible lines stretched between my spirit and the spirits of others.

I realize that she didn’t know how to love because she didn’t understand abstract ideas, but I love that when she suddenly grasps the “beautiful truth” of LOVE, she felt herself instantly connect with the spirits of her family and friends where she hadn’t before. It is such a simple thing, but I am so grateful that I am connected! Grateful that I have the opportunity to love. That I get to connect my soul to those I love, whether it is my husband, my child, my friend or my mother. That is such a gift—one that we can accept or reject. The fact is this: that connection is worth everything. That love gives our lives meaning, and it can change us. I have been thinking of so many examples of this in my life and in the lives of people I know and love. Some where we decided to love and it made us better, and some where we did the opposite of love and it destroyed pieces of us and pieces of the people around us. I think it is also a beautiful truth that it is never too late to decide to love, to reconnect, to love ourselves enough to repair those pieces with the healing power that love contains.

“My teacher is so near to me that I scarcely think of myself apart from her. How much of my delight in all things is innate, and how much is due to her influence, I can never tell. I feel that her being is inseparable from my own, and that the footsteps of my life are in hers. All the best of me belongs to her—there is not a talent, or an aspiration or a joy in me that has not been awakened by her loving touch.”


Jen Lynn said...

Thanks Brit, I love that.

I just read that book a couple of months ago and I remember rereading that part a couple of times because it was so important for me to hear.

emma jo said...

Sounds like an incredible book with amazing insights. I have always been in absolute awe of Helen keller and her sheer ability to even learn, let alone function and speak and teach.

calibosmom said...

What an amazing bond. To completely trust another human being so deeply...a hard concept to learn when you have eyes and ears that function.

Krista said...

Beautiful. I will have to read that book...

pERiWinKle said...

This is beautiful...made me think of the book 'the power of touch'...and that is love?! xx

MiandMiksmom said...

Ohhhh, thanks for sharing! Growing up I had a cassette tape with a book about Helen Keller and I always loved her story. I've never read this book though and I am intrigued. Beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Can't wait to read the book! Learning to love is one of life's greatest and most valuable lessons.