Story Behind Anne Sullivan Macy And Her Relationship With Helen Keller
As I braced myself to meet the girl who would become a lifelong student and companion of mine, I clutched the sides of my long, brown skirt in fear that perhaps not even I, who had almost gone blind during infancy, would be able to help this poor child who was not only robbed of her sight, but of sound, too. This student – a young girl named Helen Keller – was a rare case indeed. I had been told that she would be my most challenging student yet. I recalled my graduation speech – my own personal mantra that I would repeat to myself when I faced difficulty or found myself fearing what the future would hold: “duty bids us go forth into active life.
Let us go cheerfully, hopefully, and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our especial part. When we have found it, willingly and faithfully perform it; for every obstacle we overcome, every success we achieve tends to bring man closer to God.” And with that, I went to greet my new student; my new life.
As soon as I met Helen, I knew I was where I belonged. The moment I embraced the child I felt a warmth I had not yet experienced; a connection which was not established by fellowship and time, but by the hands of God Himself. As I held her in my arms, I resolved to do everything in my power to give her the tutelage she required. I felt that if I couldn’t do it, no one else could, and I refused to let this child live in a world that she had been so cruelly restricted from enjoying. Indeed, the day that Helen Keller and I met was the day that both our lives changed dramatically – for the better.
I often marvel at how different my life had become, growing up with an abusive father and losing my dear sweet wretched mother all too soon. Recalling my father’s furious frenzies and bouts of abuse towards my mother, my siblings and I still leaves me uneasy, but even that did not make me despair as much as watching my younger brother Jimmie slowly die of the relentless sickness that weakened and ravaged his frail body by the day. My brother and I were sent to a place known as Tewksbery Almshouse – a place for the impoverished children of the state – when our father abandoned us. That place was to be my brother’s grave. Having been stricken with illness before we arrived, he died in my arms months later.
I stayed by his side all night, clutching his frail hand with all my might as if I could restore his life with my own if my grip was tight enough. Despite my hoping and praying, I could not stop the inevitable from occurring. Just like that, the last thing I had on this earth was stolen from me; I was truly alone. I learned from a young age to keep my feelings bottled up inside, but sometimes it was impossible to contain the tears I would shed for my family and my poor, sweet younger brother. Back then I thought I would never stop crying, but even if that were true, I hoped I would at least shed some tears of joy every now and then.
My days at the Tewksbery Almshouse following the death of my brother were bleak. The home was overcrowded, but I never felt more isolated in my life. There wasn’t a single soul present or anywhere else on this earth that cared about what happened to me. Sometimes, I wanted to stop caring too, but something deep within me always spurred me own, no matter how bad things were or how impossible my situation appeared.
Then finally, a ray of sunshine shone through a crack in the wall, and I learned of the existence of schools for the blind. I became determined to get an education and escape the life I had unfortunately been born into, but how was I to accomplish this with such limited resources at my disposal? I thought long and hard, day and night but to no avail. It seemed impossible for a poverty-stricken child such as myself to get an education, but I refused to give up. My brother had his life cruelly taken from him, and I wasn’t about to waste mine.
One day, the opportunity I had been waiting for arrived. A special commission from Perkins School for the Blind was visiting the home, and I knew this was the only chance I would get to make my dream come true. How could this be real, my way out of poverty had come to me! I had despaired for so long, I almost didn’t know how to react, but nervousness and anticipation overcame me as I followed them around the home, preparing myself for the encounter that would free me of my burdened reality. After trailing them silently for the entire day, I worked up the courage to talk to them, and before I knew it, my dream had become a reality. “We made it, Jimmie,” I whispered under my breath as I stepped foot into the Perkins School for the Blind, eager to make the most of the second chance I had been given at life.
I could relate to Helen, having almost gone blind myself. At the mere age of five I contracted trachoma and was left with limited vision. Through surgery, however, my sight was significantly improved, but this was impossible for Helen, who had unfortunately lost her sight completely. At least I could remember the colours of the pale blue skies on a clear Spring day, or the rugged hues of sharpened orange, gold and red of the late afternoon sunset, and it broke my heart to know that Helen would never truly be able to experience such sights again.
My education at Perkins, allowed a poor child like myself to live in a place free of the foul smells and haunting cries that had previously accompanied me. Surrounding me now were ornate staircases made of dark mahogany wood, and floorboards so polished one could almost see their own reflection in them. I was determined to make the most of this chance I had been given at leading a better life.
I had barely stepped foot in Tuscumbia before I began the tutelage of Helen. I separated her from her family and friends and began to spell words into the palms of her chubby little hands. I taught her to associate these words with objects, and since the blind children from Perkins had given her a doll, that was the first word she learned. To see Helen’s satisfaction and excitement as well as the beautiful smile that crossed her face as she relished her achievement filled me with such joy and motivated me significantly.
Although we were off to a good start, we still encountered complications. The word water, specifically, was a word I remember teaching quite vividly, as it pioneered the first of many breakthroughs in Helen’s learning. At the time, Helen was struggling to discern and distinguish the word from the liquid. Despite countless attempts to teach her this concept, it appeared her learning had reached an impasse, and a very important one at that. One day, however, I had an idea. I took Helen out to the garden, turned on the tap and placed her hand underneath the water.
As she enjoyed the feeling of the cool, clear water falling through her fingers, I immediately fingered the word “water” in her palm. I felt her body tremble and she jumped for joy at the realisation. I knew she finally understood. I took her inside and began to teach her more words using this approach, and by the end of the day she had learned many new words; it was our most successful day yet. For the first time, I finally felt sure I could do this; I felt sure that I could teach this girl to learn, and love, and live.
And that’s what I did. Helen Keller – the student I spent years teaching, nurturing and have come to regard as my own daughter has become a spectacular person, and I am grateful every day that God chose me to be her guide. Helen Keller showed me a world through blind eyes and deaf ears, where nothing is impossible, and where love abounds.
As I walked to the window and peered outside, the vines of dripping honey-suckle that surrounded the house seemed comforting to me. I looked up at the clear blue sky and closed my eyes, breathing a sigh of relief. I looked back in the room at Helen who was quietly reading, her fingers moving swiftly across the pages left to right. I knew for the first time ever – I was home.
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