Helen Keller’s writing on her teacher’s beauty.  Fear of life after teacher’s death. Gift of senses. (Sept. 2018)

Susan's Thursday morning note September 20, 2018
Helen Keller’s writing on her teacher's beauty.  Fear of life after teacher's death.
Essay on what she would do if given the gift of three days of sight and hearing.

Good morning!   Complete stillness.  Only sound clicking of keys on computer and little cricket that is trying all of his calls to make my friendship knowing he is only a moment from death.  Beside me an old dark black book with the simple words “Teacher” Anne Sullivan Macy.  Helen Keller.  So much inside of such a simple book.  So much encouragement to find beauty in my day.  To be aware.  To see.  To hear.  To touch.  To notice.  This is on the relationship between her and her teacher Anne Sullivan.  Helen was encouraged to write this from a friend who stated, “When you rewrite the biography of Teacher, she will appear to you as a sacred fire – not consuming but warming, cherishing and enlightening.”  I loved that sentence.  My desire on those I care for so deeply when they remember me.  Following this book is part of a short essay by Helen on what she would do if given three days to hear and see.  Encouraging us to realize what we have in those gifts.

On describing her teacher as a beautiful woman with and intense love of excellenceAnnie Sullivan was born for refined surroundings, fastidious living, artistic ad intellectual self-expression.  She was proud of work as embodying the dignity of man and could not bear to see it ill done.  Any ugliness in human beings or in places afflicted her, deformity repelled her, although her compassionate heart was ready to minister to its victims.  Degrading poverty in every form pained her eyes, and I have known her to lie awake at night brooding on it and searching means for its abolition.  She was so sensitive to comely faces, splendor in landscapes, and beauty in art that sometimes she actually shed tears.

On Anne speaking to Helen on her impending death and fear of being alone. “Helen, you must not worry about the future.  I am not going to die yet…But even if I should die, there is no reason why you should not go on with life…If you quietly observe the life about you, and your life in particular, you will see that the future cannot possibly be as hopeless as the beginning seemed before I came to you.  Besides, you believe in the loving watchfulness of a Heavenly Father.  There is always a way out of the most difficult situation if we really want to get out of it. 

Helen’s last paragraph in the book on continuing to find life after the death of who gave her such joy.  I can think of her as a spirit giving out warmth, a sun of life.  It is not necessarily true as Romain Rolland says, that one who has known rich intimacy and limitless friendship with another human being “has a joy that will make him miserable the remainder of his life.”  There was such virtue and such power of communication in Teacher’s personality that after her death they nerved me to endure and persevere.  I was gripped by the might of the destiny she had mapped out for me, it lifted me out of myself to wage God’s war against darkness.  Of course there is always a choice between two courses, and shocked out of all security, I might have let go any further activity, but Teacher believed in me, and I resolved not to betray her faith.  Conscious of her being alive with me, I have sought new ways to give life and yet more life to men and women whom darkness, silence, sickness, or sorrow are wearing away.  And at times it seems that God is using her, who touched my night to flame, to kindle other fires of good…The certainty that her creative intelligence and truly human quality of mind do not perish, but continue their vivifying work, sweetens my loneliness and is like the warm spring air in my heart.

Excerpt from Helen Keller’s short essay by Helen Keller published in 1932, Three Days to See.  She began her essay telling of her friend not having any details to give her of a walk through the woods.  She encourages us all to appreciate our gift of sight, hearing, and our other senses.  To contemplate the loss of any to help realize what treasures we possess. 

Helen Keller:  “Perhaps I can best illustrate by imagining what I should most like to see if I was given the use of my eyes, say, for just three days. And while I am imagining, suppose you, too, set your mind to work on the problem of how to work on the problem of how you would use your own eyes if you had only three days to see. If with the oncoming darkness if the third night you knew that the sun would never rise for you again, how would you spend those three intervening days? What would you most want to let your gaze rest upon?

I, naturally, should want most to see the things which have become dear to me through my years of darkness. You, too, would want to let your eyes rest long on the things that have become dear to you so that you could take the memory of them with you into the night that loomed before you.

On the first day, I should want to see the people whose kindness and gentleness and companionship have made my life worth living…I do not know what it is to see into the heart of a friend through that ‘window of the soul,’ the eye. I can only ‘see’ through my finger tips the outline of a face. I can detect laughter, sorrow, and many other obvious emotions. I know my friends from the feel of their faces. But I cannot really picture their personalities, of course, through the thoughts they express to me, through whatever of their actions are revealed to me. But I am denied that deeper understanding of them which I am sure would come through sight of them, through watching their reactions to various expressed and circumstances, through noting the immediate and fleeting reactions of their eyes and countenance.

How much easier, how much more satisfying it is for you who can see to grasp quickly the essential qualities of another person by watching the subtleties of expression, the quiver of a muscle, the flutter of a hand. But does it ever occur to you to use your sight to see the inner nature of a friend or acquaintance? Do not most of you seeing people grasp casually the outward features of a face and let it go at that?

The first day would be a busy one. I should call to me all my dear friends and look long into their faces, imprinting upon my mind the outward evidence of the beauty that is within them. I should let my eyes rest, too, on the face of a baby, so that I could catch a vision of the eager, innocent beauty which precedes the individuals consciousness of the conflicts which life develops…And I should like to look into the loyal, trusting eyes of my dogs…whose warm, tender, and playful friendships are so comforting to me.

On that busy first day I should also view the small simple things of my home. I want to see the warm colors in the rugs under my feet, the pictures on the walls, the intimate trifles that transform a house into a home…

In the afternoon of that first seeing day, I should take a long walk in the woods and intoxicate my eyes on the beauties of the world of Nature, trying desperately to absorb in a few hours the vast splendor which is constantly unfolding itself to those who can see. I should pray for the glory of a colorful sunset. When dusk had fallen, I should experience the double delight of being able to see by artificial light, which the genius of man has created to extend the power of his sight when Nature decrees darkness. In the night of that first day of sight, I should not be able to sleep, so full would be my mind of the memories of the day.

The next day – the second day of sight – I should arise with the dawn and see the thrilling miracle by which night is transformed into day. I should behold with awe the magnificent panorama of light with which the sun awakens the sleeping earth. This day I should devote to a hasty glimpse of the world, past and present. I should want to see the pageant of man’s progress, the kaleidoscope of the ages. How can so much compressed into one day? Through the museums, of course. My next stop would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for just as the Museum of Natural History reveals the material aspects of the world, so does the Metropolitan show the myriad facets of the human spirit. So on this, my second day of sight, I should try to probe into the soul of man through his art. The things I knew through touch I should now see. More splendid still, the whole magnificent world of painting would be opened to me, Oh, there is so much rich meaning and beauty in the art of the ages for you who have eyes to see!

This, according to the terms of my imagined miracle, is to be my third and last day of sight. Today I shall spend in the workday world of the present, amid the haunts of men going about the business of life. And where one can find so many activities and conditions of men as in New York? So the city becomes my destination.

First, I stand at a busy corner, merely looking at people, trying by sight of them to understand something of their lives. I see smiles, and I am happy. I see serious determination, and I am proud. I see suffering, and I am compassionate. Always my eyes are open wide to all the sights of both happiness and misery so that I may probe deep and add to my understanding of how people work and live. My heart is full of the images of people and things. My eye passes lightly over no single trifle; it strives to touch and hold closely each thing its gaze rests upon. Some sights are pleasant, filling the heart with happiness; but some are miserably pathetic. To these latter I do not shut my eyes, for they, too are part of life. To close the eye on them is to close the heart and mind.

At midnight my temporary respite from blindness would cease, and permanent night would close in on me again. Naturally in those three short days I should not have seen all I wanted to see. Only when darkness had again descended upon me should I realize how much I had left unseen. But my mind would be so overcrowded with glorious memories that I should have little time for regrets. Thereafter the touch of every object would bring a glowing memory of how that object looked.

Perhaps this short outline of how I should spend three days of sight does not agree with the programme you would set for yourself if you knew that you were about to be stricken blind. I am, however, sure that if you actually faced that fate your eyes would open to things you had never seen before, storing up memories for the long night ahead. You would use your eyes as never before. Everything you saw would become dear to you. Your eyes would touch and embrace every object that came within your range of vision. Then, at last, you would really see, and a new world of beauty would open itself before you.

I who am blind can give one hint to those who see – one admonition to those who would make full use of the gift of sight: Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind. And the same method can be applied to other senses. Hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra, as if you would be stricken deaf to-morrow. Touch each object you want to touch as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never smell and taste again. Make the most of every sense; glory in all the facets of pleasure and beauty which the world reveals to you through the several means of contact which Nature provides. But of all the senses, I am sure that sight must be the most delightful.


Link to entire essay by Helen Keller:


Latin for this week:
visio – vision 
vulchra aspectu – beautiful sight
ex omnibus nostris sensibus est sensus videndi - The keenest of all our senses is the sense of sight (Cicero)