At nineteen months, Helen Keller suffered a fever that left her blind and deaf. She spent her first years “at sea in a dense fog,” expressing herself largely through tantrums. Her life took a miraculous turn when her family hired a gifted tutor, Anne Sullivan. In a scene later immortalized in the play The Miracle Worker, Sullivan helped seven-year-old Helen understand the connection between objects and symbols by writing “W-A-T-E-R” on one hand, while pumping water on her other. With this breakthrough, Helen wrote, “The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free.”
Helen went on to graduate from Radcliffe College, travel the world, advocate for people with disabilities, and write many books. Her experience of disability awakened her to wider conditions of social injustice, and she became a tireless champion of workers, women’s rights, racial equality, and the cause of peace. She was undeterred by critics of her radical views: “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do something I can do.”
She also became a strong proponent of the teachings of the eighteenth-century mystic and theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg, who awakened her heart to the principle of universal love and the existence of a spiritual dimension between our physical senses. She died on June 1, 1968.
“I know that life is given us so that we may grow in love. And I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of the flower, the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence.” —Helen Keller