During our stay here in Alabama, we found out that Helen Keller was born in one of the nearby towns – Tuscumbia, Alabama. It isn’t more that 15 or 20 minutes from the hotel where we are staying and so we decided to head over there and visit the homestead. Admittedly, before yesterday, I didn’t know too much about Ms. Keller and to be truthful about it, I don’t know too much more today than I did yesterday. No – that doesn’t mean that I didn’t pay attention on the tour. It means that, like most people, I know that Helen was deaf and blind. I also know that her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was instrumental in helping Helen develop into quite a remarkable person.
It was interesting to see the homestead where she was raised. Originally built in 1820, the house was built by Keller’s grandfather and eventually handed down to her father. Helen was born on June 27, 1880, and was completely normal. However, at the age of 19 months she suffered an incredibly high fever, perhaps as a result of contracting meningitis, and without our modern day drugs nothing could be done to relieve the fever. When she finally recovered from her illness, it was discovered that she was both deaf and blind.
Anne Sullivan, herself a student at a school for those who suffered from limited sight, was hired by Mr. Keller to work with Helen. At a monthly salary of $25 plus room and board, it was quite an accomplishment for someone who was trying to figure out what to do with her life, especially with the challenges she herself faced. She stayed with Helen throughout the rest of her life, followed by another assistant, Polly Thompson, who took over the duties of helping Helen. Ms. Keller finally died on June 1, 1968 – having received numerous awards across the globe for her work with the blind and deaf. She also was the first deaf, blind person to earn a college degree; from Ratcliffe near Boston.
Many of us probably learned about Helen Keller from the movie “The Miracle Worker” starring Anne Bancroft and introducing a young actress by the name of Patty Duke. The story we heard yesterday was certainly along the lines of the movie I saw years ago. I don’t know that I ever really fully understood the difficulties that Helen had to overcome to learn a language, be able to communicate with others and to write books and personal letters. It had to be a very scary proposition to feel alone in a world where you couldn’t see and couldn’t hear.
It had to be very tough to depend on others to get you through the day – and through it all to remain positive and optimistic about the future. How easy it would have been to give up. After all, the homestead was originally around 600 acres and the house was quite something for its day. There was no compelling reason for Helen to turn out the way she did – it took an extreme act of faith for her to transform her entire life.
Oddly, as I went through the house, I kept thinking about what Helen’s belief system was all about. Apparently, she was religious and was christened in the Presbyterian church. The docent didn’t know that much about religion in her life during her later years, but it appears that she was somewhat liberal in her theology.
The point of all this is that I got to thinking about Helen’s physical state and how much faith it took to accomplish the things she did in her life. The more I thought about it the more I realized that in some ways we aren’t too far different than Helen was, especially in our relationship with God. For example, we have never seen God and for that matter, most of us have never heard au audible voice from God either. So, in the truest sense of the words, we are deaf and blind when it comes to our physical relationship with God. Yet we can choose to reject the Father or we can trust, the way Helen did, and eventually get to the point where we can depend on God for our daily existence.
And that is just as remarkable as the strides that Helen made in her life. Who would think that we could believe in someone who we couldn’t see and couldn’t hear – yet we have the opportunity. Furthermore, we depend on God to teach us and guide us on our daily journey.
The verse for this evening is the one that I saw in the Keller home. In fact, Helen had written it across the bottom of a picture. It was a familiar part of the Psalm 23. It read, in verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” What comfort that verse must have brought her.
My encouragement this evening is that God is there to comfort each of us – no matter what the circumstance. And my prayer is that you will appreciate the blessings that have been bestowed on each of us. God truly is a “miracle worker.” Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…