The Angels in Our Lives: Helen Keller
As my disabilities became more apparent in childhood, I often felt sorry for myself. My hearing was poor, particularly in my left ear where damage from an infection diminished it significantly. I was so nearsighted that teachers gasped when they saw how thick my lenses were, and eye doctors told me there would come a time when they couldn’t make them any thicker.
And if that weren’t enough, I was dyslexic. Letters on a page seemed to dance, my eyes didn’t track correctly across the page, and I frequently wrote my letters backwards.
Nothing about learning was easy.
But I was determined to push past it. I decided to read every book and newspaper I could get my hands on, no matter how long it took or how difficult it was to understand.
One day while in the library, I picked up a book about Helen Keller: The Story of My Life. Because of a childhood illness, she was blind, deaf, and mute. Yet somehow, she overcame all those disabilities to become a well-educated woman with admirers the world over.
My problems seemed so insignificant compared to hers. I’m sure she would have traded places with me in a heartbeat. She wasn’t bitter, but she had every right to be.
Anne Sullivan, her teacher, opened up the world to her:
Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that I had ever been different, until she came—my teacher—who was to set my spirit free.
Anne taught Helen so well that she graduated with highest honors from Radcliffe College.
It was my teacher's genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me. . . . 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.
Later, Helen expressed what learning meant to her:
Knowledge is happiness, because to have knowledge—broad, deep knowledge—is to know true ends from false, and lofty things from low. To know the thoughts and deeds that have marked man’s progress is to feel the great heart-throbs of humanity through the centuries.
Many angels like Anne Sullivan have appeared in my life—teachers, neighbors, coaches, colleagues—who offered their help when I needed it most. I’m indebted to all of them.
It was Helen Keller, my first angel, who taught me that anything is possible if you don’t give up.