Before language had been fully developed in her mind, she was thrust into a world where her only means of interpreting the stuff of life would be her sense of touch, taste, smell and imagination. She couldn't see the love in her parents eyes or hear their words of affection. Their identity in her life became an amalgam of how they smelled, what they did for her and exposed her to, and how they touched her. She had no way of expressing her needs and wants other than crude pantomime, and she had no way of contemplating anything that wasn't concretely observable through her remaining senses. Talk about a dark existence.
Enter Ann Sullivan, the woman Helen would come to affectionately call "Teacher." When Ann first met Helen (almost age 7), she brought her a doll as a gift. In the days ahead as Ann tried to break through the darkness in Helen's mind by teaching her language by spelling out words in her hand using the manual alphabet, Helen would, understandably, become frustrated and angry. In one moment of particular frustration, she took out her aggression on the doll: "I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment of tenderness.”
On that same day as God would have it, Helen had a breakthrough. Ann took her outside to the well on her family's property and poured the cool well water over her cupped hands and then spelled the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. "Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
While this story in and of itself is truly amazing and wonderful, it is what happened next in Helen's account that captured my attention even more. When they came back to the house after her encounter with w-a-t-e-r, this is what she recounts: "On entering the door, I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears, for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
How remarkable this is to me! It wasn't until the light shined into Helen's dark world through the gift of language that she was able to step outside of her own self-centered existence to grieve over the ramifications of her actions. The doll immediately became, not just "one more thing in a dark world to be touched and examined," but rather "a gift" from someone who cared enough about her to work with her through her frustrations to help her get to a place where the light could shine.
Perspective is a gift. How many things in our lives do we (literally, or figuratively with our words) "dash upon the floor" in frustration all because we lack the perspective?
This is how Helen describes the end of that blessed day in her book: "It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”
Perspective. Light. Grace. Living Water. The Word. These are the things that brought Helen Keller out of darkness, out of that unfeeling place and into a state of mind that could make a blind and deaf child joyful and thoroughly excited about the days ahead. Because of the love of God, the best teacher of all, these things still have this power and always will.
The words of Jesus from John 7:38, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" NASB