We all know the story of Hellen Keller, that little blind girl and her teacher Anne Sullivan. It is one of the great stories of America. Helen Keller (I wont go into the details of her life as I think it is well known and would only distract from what I am saying) went from being an unmanageable, nearly wild, blind girl whose parents were desperate for some vague sense of normalcy for their daughter, a normalcy which all the finest doctors said would never come, to an honors student at Radcliff. That feat alone alone is a worthy testament to Hellens true intellect hidden behind her handicap and to the methodology of her tutor Anne Sullivan. For most the story ends here but there is more…
Radcliff did not offer Braille books and so Anne, who by this time was more than a teacher, she was a friend continued to “write” out the textbooks into the palm of Hellens hand’s just as she had done so many years before. What few people at the time knew was that Anne Sullivan had eye problems of her own. Doctors warned her that if she continued to do what she was doing that she would very likely go blind. Imagine it, devoting your life to helping a blind girl only to be faced with the same situation. How would you react? How would any of us?
No one would have held her in anything but the highest regards if she quit then to protect her own health, after all she had already done the impossible to her student and continued on as her students devoted friend. But some people give a little more and so Anne Sullivan continued and never stopped helping her friend Helen Keller who graduated Cum Laude.
Friendship grows from many places: co-workers, employees, employers, neighbors or teachers can all come to be regarded as friends. But this story always reminds me that what we do for others in friendship is more than a reflection on who we are, it is what we all should aspire to be. Anne Sullivan chose taught a little girl to see through a very peculiar lens, one that does not hold to preconceived notions, that does not recognize racial heritage or class distinction. A way of seeing that penetrates. She taught this by doing what so many of us take for granted today. She took the time to read for Hellen by literally impressing the words onto her flesh with her own fingers. In this act of physical intimacy one person learned to see, two people learned to be friends, a family learned the value of hope and the world was enriched by the story.
When we read to children, or tell them stories, of just engage them in conversation we should keep in mind what we are really doing, we not unlike Anne Sullivan teach them to become a part of the larger world.