I think it’s safe to say that Helen Keller is one of our most famous and revered citizens. Her incomprehensible limitations as well as accomplishments have been the subject of plays, movies, books, and documentaries. Her birthplace in Tuscumbia, Ivy Green, is one of my favorite places on the planet. Her birthday is on June 27th, and nationally the month of June is devoted to underscoring the awareness of just what it means to be blind.
I have written about her before, and I don’t think I’ll ever get to the end of things to be learned by the things she said and did.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on three things: adventure, keen senses, and imagination. All three are part of an abundant life, and all three were possessed by Helen in resplendance and clarity.
Her statement, “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing” really stood to be my mantra while I was in Iraq, and has continued to be so. I am not suggesting here the kind of adventure that exists for itself, or one that tries to satisfy the demands of some kind of bored, self absorbed thrill quotient. I am talking about the kinds of risks taken to live life well, and to not ever grow shriveled inside.
Helen, as all blind people, had a remarkable sense of touch, and it was in part by touch that she “saw” people. She touched the faces of every president from the “silent” Calvin Coolidge to Lyndon Baines Johnson. She handled the moustache of Charlie Chaplin, and touched the faces of opera singer Enrico Caruso, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Eleanor Roosevelt. If you ever watch the footage of people such as Ike being “handled” by Helen, two things are apparent: he was being stretched, and she is being delightfully enlightened. The sighted were outside of their comfort zone, perhaps, and she is beaming because she “sees” them. It is, indeed, all a matter of perspective, especially when worlds and worldviews collide.
Helen was on the vaudeville circuit for a while, demonstrating her triumphs over blindness, deafness, and the inability to speak, and her ability to adapt to her surroundings caused some to wonder about the extent of her limitations. She would flow effortlessly up on to the various stages with the same ease as someone who could see. What was not known by the audience is that what “led” her was the smell of two dozen roses, functioning somewhat like the proverbial carrot to the donkey, and she would arrive center stage without a hitch, the flowers waiting for her as a “reward.”
There are so many times that we are called upon, or many times forced, to go to places we don’t want to go, through circumstances for which we would never sign up if we were given a choice, but at the end of the day, it is Helen that said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Success through suffering is not a popular concept these days, but its truth stands.
On imagination, Helen had this to say: “Without imagination, what a poor thing my world would be!” In my own life I have Rita Campbell, wife of the late Athens dentist Dr. Lyndon Campbell to thank for encouraging me to fearlessly use my imagination, and her empowering me to do so is one of the things that gives me the courage to dig deep and manage to produce a Publisher’s Point for each edition of Athens Now.
Lastly, Helen said the following about being blind:”The calamity of the blind is immense, irreparable. But it does not take away our share of the things that count—service, friendship, humour, imagination, wisdom. It is the secret inner will that controls one’s fate. We are capable of willing to be good, of loving and being loved, of thinking to the end that we may be wiser. We possess these spirit-born forces equally with all God’s children. Therefore we, too, see the lightnings and hear the thunders of Sinai. We, too, march through the wilderness and the solitary place that shall be glad for us, and as we pass, God maketh the desert to blossom like the rose. We, too, go in unto the Promised Land to possess the treasures of the spirit, the unseen permanence of life and nature.” In a word, Alabamian Helen Keller and her life make me want to be a better person. How about you?
By: Ali Elizabeth Turnerr