Thursday, March 06, 2008

The beauty of language

When I was a kid, growing up in the suburban desert of Hemet, CA, one of my greatest joys was to "go adventuring" into books and plays. Thus I started acting at age 5, playing the Big Bad Wolf in my first school play. I still remember hurtling into the pigs' houses, which were made of cardboard, throwing myself fully into these constructs to emphasize blowing them down. What a little whirlwind I was!

This brings me to today's blog about Helen Keller. Some new photos of her and her teacher, Annie Sullivan were recently discovered. AOL is showcasing this rare find, and it brought back all sorts of memories for me.

I had always been fascinated with Miss Keller since my friend Kara Herold gave me a book on this phenomenal woman while we were in elementary school. Helen had been locked in a world of silent darkness when she fell ill at the age of 2 and lost both her sight and hearing. Thus she became a wild child until she was 6 and a half. Then Annie Sullivan, who also suffered poor vision, became Helen's governess and teacher and worked tirelessly with Helen for over a month, finally breaking through the walls of silent darkness by finger-spelling the deaf alphabet into Helen's hand. Helen later recounted this:

“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honey-suckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. 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.”

Can you imagine? Only a month and Annie was able to get through to Helen! What a break-through!

In high school, I was fortunate to play Helen in "The Miracle Worker" and it was such an intense experience. I will never forget it! Got a lot of bruises in the famous "breakfast scene," and I still remember that feeling of just.... throwing myself out there... imaginging what it must be like to move through a soundless darkness, relying only on touch, taste and feelings. Then finding the breakthrough, that sense of insight and understanding found through human contact.

To find ways of reaching out to each other.... to connect... that is such a gift.

1 comment:

Tina Sams said...

Laura... I've known this story nearly all my life, but for some reason you wrote in such a way that I imagined a 2 year old suddenly plunged into silence and darkness. Amazing! How could that have been so unfocused until you spelled it out?