The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life was my 16th book of the year and much to be admired for both its content and its brevity. Keller’s authorial voice was charming, positive, and on nearly every page, a sheer joy to read. I enjoyed the book immensely.
Helen Keller, as almost everyone knows, is renowned for having overcome the dual disabilities of blindness and deafness, which were caused by a severe childhood illness that occurred before she had learned to speak. Most people can probably imagine life without one of those senses, but it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could learn to understand the world without the benefit of either sense. That’s what makes the story of her life so fascinating.
I remember a particular tale about Helen Keller being told to me as a schoolchild. The setting was a well pump. Anne Sullivan, her teacher, poured water over the girl’s hand, then traced the letters W-A-T-E-R into her palm. That was said to be the moment when the light bulb went off in her head and she finally started to understand words.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that story in this book. Far too often as adults we discover that the things we learned in school aren’t quite accurate. But though I’d heard that story before, I don’t think I fully understood until reading it again, in her own words, how amazing she was. It’s impressive enough that she learned to understand words being spelled into her hand. It could not have been easy learning English that way. But she went on to learn many forms of communication, including how to read lips, how to speak intelligibly, and how to read Braille. Then she learned French, German, Latin, and Greek. She also mastered the art of writing. All of this she did by the age of 22, when this book was first published. She became famous around the world as an author, speaker, and activist. (She also became, apparently, quite radical in her politics, which was not mentioned in school or covered within the time frame of this book, but which I am interested in reading more about in the future).
As amazing as Helen Keller was, what I found most remarkable about her story was that she had so many friends and mentors who helped her over the barriers that blindness and deafness had placed in her path. We should all have so much support. If we did, how many more amazing people might our society produce?
Many, many more, I think. And that is the message I have chosen to take from The Story of My Life. Each human being is born into this world with potential, but also with weaknesses and situational difficulties that hinder them from becoming their best possible selves. Giving every child the resources and aid they need ought to be one of the highest goals of our society. The way to make a country great is not, as some people believe, to build a wall around it. The way to make a country great is to fill it with great people, and the way to make great people is to provide every opportunity for greatness to arise within them.