I was blind but now I see
Have you ever really thought about that famous line? Until recently I hadn’t thought much about what it is like to be blind – or deaf for that matter. That is, until I read The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. As you probably know, Helen was both blind and deaf.
Helen speaks of being unable to communicate, to even think with clarity. Words were unknown to her – a strange concept to those of us who have acquired language from infancy. She likens her isolation as a child to a ship lost in a great fog, trying to find the shore, waiting in the fearful unknown, the silent darkness.
Then came love in the tangible form of Miss Anne Sullivan, her teacher. Knowledge and understanding would soon be hers. Her eyes would be opened as ours are when our Saviour comes to find us: He who opens our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear.
…knowledge is happiness, because to have knowledge – broad, deep knowledge – is to know true ends from false, and lofty things from low… and if one does not feel in these pulsations a heavenward striving, one must indeed be deaf to the harmonies of life.
Helen’s writings are a timeless demonstration of this, from the awakening of her heart, mind and soul when her teacher came in her childhood, to her burgeoning growth in academia.
However, what struck me most was her sheer gratitude and pleasure in living. Helen Keller saw more beauty and colour in the opening of a single bud than I ever have in a field of wildflowers. Her ears heard the approaching thunder while seeming to lack the ability, and she heard the warmth of a friend’s voice in the simplicity of their presence. She was excited by life; she was grateful. She lived and loved every moment. Miss Keller shares the detail in the darkness, the solace in the silence, hope and joy in all things.
Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content… So I try to make the light in others’ eyes my sun, the music in others’ ears my symphony, the smile on others’ lips my happiness.
Helen talks of books as though they were familiar friends that granted her eyes and ears. They were a window to other worlds, cultures, places, friends and foes, adventures and longings of the hearts of others. Her joy makes my own gratitude pale into shadows, but I am not sad or guilt-ridden at this—rather, I am challenged.
I read her expressions with a sense of a torch being passed, and I share this now with my fellow writers. How might we meet the challenge to give senses to the stories being tapped out on our keyboards? As a writer I long not only for life to be breathed into my words, but that the life in them be wholly unconnected to me.
Can my words be alive with the sense of the Saviour? Can they breathe humanity in an almost soul-like quality?
Trying to write is very much like trying to put a Chinese puzzle together. We have a pattern in mind which we wish to work out in words; but the words will not fit the spaces, or, if they do, they will not match the design. But we keep on trying because we know that others have succeeded, and we are not willing to acknowledge defeat.
How true those words. I find it odd that in taking a look at what it is like to be without sight or hearing, I feel better prepared to put my puzzles together.
In a word, literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends.
What I gleaned from Helen Keller’s writings will stay with me forever. My question is: will our own impressions made permanent in ink, make the same impact? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.
All quotes from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller