Monday, July 23, 2007

June 21- Sister in History

I remember the first time I read the story of Helen Keller. I was about 11 years old living in China with my family. I started the book one Saturday morning and was so engrossed in her story and so moved by her life that I skipped lunch and kept reading until I finished it.

With a tear stained face and a heavy heart I put the book down, but felt strangely connected with Helen Keller. Her tenacity and ability to learn language, not only English but several others, astounded me! Using her hands she changed the world's view of deafblind people and their role as individuals and their ability to succeed in life.

The weekend of June 21 our family had the opportunity to visit Helen Keller's home. We were there to meet with Alabama's Deafblind and Multi handicapped Association; a group we have been a part of so we can network with other families of children with these issues. After our meetings we toured the place where Helen grew up, where she learned her first word through finger spelling and bonded with her friend and teacher Annie Sullivan. The moment we stepped out of the van and got the kids settled in their strollers I knew this was going to be a special but difficult experience for my heart.

The house was very neat, full of pictures and numerous memorabilia from Helen's family. We saw the famous dinning room where she learned to fold her napkin. Outside we saw the small cottage where Annie took Helen away from her family environment so she could teach Helen alone... hoping to break through her dark world.

Once outside we saw the pump where Helen's mind made the connection between Annie's finger spelling and the meaning of language. I had to fight back tears as I wheeled Abby up to touch it. Our hearts long for Abby to grasp language as Helen did and for some such miracle to happen in our family like it did for Helen's. We lingered at the pump for some time, taking pictures and wondering what that moment must have been like for Helen.

Whenever I've heard people talk about that breakthrough moment at the water pump the focus is naturally on Helen and Annie and their experience together. As I stood there with Abby I couldn't help but wonder how Helen's mother must have felt seeing Helen sign "water" into Annie's hand, knowing that the start of something incredible had just taken place; knowing that her child's mind was opened and communication was a real possibility. I wish I could go back in time and see her face at that moment.

I think I could have stayed there all day, just sitting in the shade of those old trees and feeling connected to a dear sister in history.

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."
Helen Keller