Helen Keller Blind-Deaf Awareness Week

Guest post by Julie Pepper Lim, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Meritage Medical Network.

This week is Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week. In college, I had the honor of playing Anne Sullivan, in The Miracle Worker. Both in the play and in real life, Anne Sullivan was a resilient, strong, and inspiring teacher to Helen Keller. The Miracle Worker was a long play with dialogue for Anne Sullivan on most of its pages. Being an actor, I immersed myself in my role, memorized the lines, looked inside of myself to find what made this character me, or me this character, and ultimately delivered, all amidst my regular coursework.

As you may or may not realize, the person playing Helen, had a fully exhausting physical role.  The character Helen hardly said a word the entire production, until the famous scene where Helen made a breakthrough. In the scene, Anne pours water on one of her hands at the well and draws into the other letters: w-a-t-e-r, which begins Helen’s journey with language as we know it. By the way, a thrilling moment, each and every time we played it.

What I never realized until I started doing this research, was how Helen took that language and wrote stunningly beautiful essays in the years to come.  Per request, Helen reluctantly detailed her experience, in terms of all of her senses and what it felt like to live inside of her world.

In the stage play, though Helen Keller doesn’t have lots of recognizable verbal dialogue, her non-verbal communication, guttural frustration and physicality are a huge part of how we come to know her. Through the trajectory of the play, she recognizes the concept of language and we’re led to believe that she will go on to understand life as we do. The miraculous thing is, if you follow her life after that period, you discover that she goes on to experience life in more deeply sensual ways than many of us will ever experience.

In her essay, The Seeing Hand, you have only to read the first page to learn that though she can’t see with her eyes, she sees with every other part of her being and what’s more she has the incredible talent to share in detail what that feels like. I lifted this first paragraph: I have touched my dog. He was rolling on the grass, with pleasure in every muscle and limb. I wanted to catch a picture of him in my fingers, and I touched him as lightly as I would cobwebs; but lo, his fat body revolved, stiffened and solidified into an upright position, and his tongue gave my hand a lick! He pressed close to me, as if he were fain to crowd himself into my hand. He loved it with his tail, with his paw, with his tongue. If he could speak, I believe he would say with me that paradise is attained by touch; for in touch is all love and intelligence.

This is only the first paragraph, of one piece of work. I’m hearkened back to school where all we were taught about Helen Keller was that she was blind and deaf and that she went on to live a normal life, in spite of that, “normal” like the seeing and the hearing people. What we weren’t taught is that she lived a life far more extraordinary than our seeing and hearing will allow us to imagine, or was I just too young to understand? Do I even understand now?

It’s Helen Keller Blind-Deaf week. Now that I’ve gotten a small window into Keller’s world, I want to spend the rest of the week reading every word she ever wrote. I want to find out what other blind-deaf writers are out there and what the world looks like from their perspectives. I want to touch, smell and feel a bit of what I’ve had the good fortune to read, today, prose that reads like poetry and takes you to places you’ve never seen.

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