I'm Ray Freeman.
And I'm Shirley Griffith with People in America - a program inSpecial English by the Voice of America. Every week we tell aboutsomeone who was important in the history of the United States.Graphic Image
This week we finish the story of awriter and educator, Helen Keller. She helped millions of peoplewho, like her, were blind and deaf.
We reported last week that Helen Keller suffered from a strangesickness when she was only nineteen months old. It made hercompletely blind and deaf. For the next five years she had no way ofsuccessfully communicating with other people.Graphic Image
Then, a teacher -- Anne Sullivan-- arrived from Boston to help her. Miss Sullivan herself had oncebeen blind. She tried to teach Helen to live like other people. Shetaught her how to use her hands as a way of speaking.
p>Miss Sullivan took Helen out into the woods to explore nature.They also went to the circus, the theater, and even to factories.Miss Sullivan explained everything in the language she and Helenused -- a language of touch -- of fingers and hands. Helen alsolearned how to ride a horse, to swim, to row a boat and, even toclimb trees.
Helen Keller once wrote about these early days.
"One beautiful spring morning I was alone in my room, reading.Suddenly, a wonderful smell in the air made me get up and put out myhands. The spirit of spring seemed to be passing in my room. 'Whatis it,' I asked. The next minute I knew it was coming from themimosa tree outside.
I walked outside to the edge of the garden, toward the tree.There it was, shaking in the warm sunshine. Its long branches, soheavy with flowers, almost touched the ground. I walked through theflowers to the tree itself and then just stood silent. Then I put myfoot on the tree and pulled myself up into it. I climbed higher andhigher until I reached a little seat. Long ago someone had put itthere. I sat for a long time. . . Nothing in all the world was likethis."
Later, Helen learned that nature could be cruel as well asbeautiful. Strangely enough she discovered this in a different kindof tree.
"One day my teacher and I were returning from a long walk. It wasa fine morning. But it started to get warm and heavy. We stopped torest two or three times. Our last stop was under a cherry tree ashort way from the house.
The shade was nice and the tree was easy to climb. Miss Sullivanclimbed with me. It was so cool up in the tree we decided to havelunch there. I promised to sit still until she went to the house forsome food. Suddenly a change came over the tree. I knew the sky wasblack because all the heat, which meant light to me had died out ofthe air. A strange odor came up to me from the earth.
I knew it -- it was the odor which always comes before a thunderstorm.
I felt alone, cut off from friends, high above the firm earth. Iwas frightened, and wanted my teacher. I wanted to get down fromthat tree quickly. But I was no help to myself. There was a momentof terrible silence.
Then a sudden and violent wind began to shake the tree and itsleaves kept coming down all around me. I almost fell. I wanted tojump, but was afraid to do so. I tried to make myself small in thetree, as the branches rubbed against me. Just as I thought that boththe tree and I were going to fall, a hand touched me. . . It was myteacher. I held her with all my strength then shook with Joy to feelthe solid earth under my feet. "
Miss Sullivan stayed with Helen for many years. She taught Helenhow to read, how to write and how to speak. She helped her to getready for school and college. More than anything, Helen wanted to dowhat others did, and do it just as well.
In time, Helen did go to college and completed her studies withhigh honors. But it was a hard struggle. Few of the books she neededwere written in the braille language that the blind could read bytouching pages. Miss Sullivan and others had to teach her what wasin these books by forming words in her hands.
The study of geometry and physics was especially difficult. Helencould only learn about squares, triangles, and other geometricalforms by making them with wires. She kept feeling the differentshapes of these wires until she could see them in her mind.
During her second year at college, Miss Keller wrote the story ofher life and what college meant to her. This is what she wrote.
"My first day at Radcliffe College was of great interest. Somepowerful force inside me made me test my mind. I wanted to learn ifit was as good as that of others.
I learned many things at college. One thing, I slowly learned wasthat knowledge does not just mean power, as some people say.Knowledge leads to happiness, because to have it is to know what istrue and real.
To know what great men of the past have thought, said and done isto feel the heartbeat of humanity down through the ages. "
All of Helen Keller's knowledge reached her mind through hersense of touch and smell, and of course her feelings.
To know a flower was to touch it, feel it, and smell it. Thissense of touch became greatly developed as she got older.
She once said that hands speak almost as loudly as words.
She said the touch of some hands frightened her. The people seemso empty of Joy that when she touched their cold fingers it is as ifshe were shaking hands with a storm.
She found the hands of others full of sunshine and warmth.
Strangely enough, Helen Keller learned to love things she couldnot hear, music for example. She did this through her sense oftouch.
When waves of air beat against her, she felt them. Sometimes sheput her hand to a singer's throat. She often stood for hours withher hands on a piano while it was played. Once, she listened to anorgan. Its powerful sounds made her move her body in rhythm with themusic.
She also liked to go to museums.
She thought she understood sculpture as well as others. Herfingers told her the true size, and the feel of the material.
What did Helen Keller think of herself. What did she think aboutthe tragic loss of her sight and hearing. This is what she wrote asa young girl:
"Sometimes a sense of loneliness covers me like a cold mist -- Isit alone and wait at life's shut door. Beyond, there is light andmusic and sweet friendship, but I may not enter. Silence sits heavyupon my soul.
Then comes hope with a sweet smile and says softly, 'there is joyin forgetting one's self'. And so I try to make the light in others'eyes my sun. . . The music in others' ears my symphony. . . Thesmile on others' lips my happiness. "
Helen Keller was tall and strong. When, she spoke, her facelooked very alive. It helped give meaning to her words. She oftenfelt the faces of close friends when she was talking to them todiscover their feelings. She and Miss Sullivan both were known fortheir sense of humor. They enjoyed jokes and laughing at funnythings that happened to themselves or others.
Helen Keller had to work hard to support herself after shefinished college. She spoke to many groups around the country. Shewrote several books. And she made one movie based on her life. Hermain goal was to increase public interest in the difficulties ofpeople with physical problems.
The work Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan did has been written andtalked about for many years. Their success showed how people canconquer great difficulties.
Anne Sullivan died in nineteen thirty-six, blind herself. BeforeMiss Sullivan died, Helen wrote and said many kind things about her.
"It was the genius of my teacher, her sympathy, her love whichmade my first years of education so beautiful.
My teacher is so near to me that I do not think of myself asapart from her. All the best of me belongs to her. Everything I amtoday was awakened by her loving touch. "
Helen Keller died on June first, nineteen sixty-eight. She waseighty-seven years old. Her message of courage and hope remains.
You have been just heard the last part of the story of HelenKeller. Our Special English program was written by katherine clarkeand produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Ray Freeman. Listen again next week to another People inAmerica program on the Voice of America.