For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the life of the deaf-blind humanitarian Helen Keller.
Maybe because my mother is deaf, I was drawn to the story of Helen’s plight, and how she overcame adversity, learned to speak and lip-read, and became the first deaf-blind student to earn a Batchelor of Arts degree. Helen went on to become an active campaigner with people of disabilities, and in 1964 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
For all of Helen’s achievements, much credit should go to her teacher, Anne Sullivan. An outstanding teacher, Anne was Helen’s constant companion throughout her life. Helen’s life has been depicted in numerous films, but there is one scene which, for me, sums up the relationship between Helen and Anne.
The importance of words
It’s the famous water pump scene when Helen first learns to associate words with objects. As Anne places young Helen’s hand under the pump, and the water began to flow over her fingers, Anne then spells the word “w-a-t-e-r” on Helen’s other hand. It was as if a light has shone into Helen’s life, and she realises for the first time that every word, every emotion, has meaning.
Working as I do in the Fiction Team, I am surrounded by stories every day. And it’s incomprehensible for me to think that I could live in a world where words have no meaning. Language can be taken for granted, but the gift of communication should never be underestimated.
The power of words
What must it have been like for the young Helen to finally understand the meaning of words? A truly beautiful moment. A moment that not only defined Helen the pupil, but Anne the patient, diligent teacher. What faith shown by both.
So never underestimate the power of words and their meaning. It can touch hearts and minds, setting us free to explore new opportunities. Like Helen and Anne, sometimes all you have to do is reach out . . .