- They took away what should have been my eyes
- (But I remembered Milton's Paradise).
- They took away what should have been my ears,
- (Beethoven came and wiped away my tears).
- They took away what should have been my tongue,
- (But I had talked with God when I was young).
- He would not let them take away my soul -
- Possessing that, I still possess the whole.
Helen Keller writes of losing her sight and hearing, using the phrase "they took away." Such an immense loss at only 19 months of age must have been utterly confusing for little Helen and her parents. She spent the next four years blind, deaf, and unable to speak and was said to be half-wild. Can we imagine the trauma this family experienced? There were no social supports or schools in the late 1880's to offer help for them.
But a miracle worker emerged who relentlessly and passionately gave herself to the child, defying all odds, to teach language and communication to Helen through her fingertips. The breakthrough moment arrived with the pumping of w-a-t-e-r splashing onto Helen Keller's outstretched hand. Anne Sullivan stayed with her through childhood, adolescence, even through college at Radcliffe where Helen graduated cum laude in 1904, with Anne interpreting all lectures and class discussions.
Helen later traveled the world lecturing in 25 countries and bringing hope to millions of blind and deaf people. Though we may marvel that one person could do so much, we quickly remember that it was not one, but at least two -- two passionate, dedicated people who would not let 'no' be an obstacle.
Upon re-reading her lines above days later, I am struck by something new that was not apparent initially. She refers to her lost senses not as "my sight" or "my speech", but as "what should have been my sight..." Do we catch the difference? For all appearances, she had lost each one, but her declaration is that in entrusting her soul to God, she still possessed the whole. The essence of Helen Keller was intact. How beautiful.
We may have the sense of sight and be able to hear ambient sound, yet many of us are still living in darkness. We see, but have no vision. We hear, but do not listen. We tune out a call for self-denial and resist the whisper of a still, small voice.
May we consider the weight of this strong Southern woman's words over 100 years later as a point for thought when we are tempted to complain of all that we do not have. May we remember that there is unbridled beauty in even the most bleak circumstance if we look beyond our limitations. And how do we define our limitations? How do we set the boundary of what we cannot do? What would we do if we were not afraid of failing?
Let us not have our limitations define us. What a reminder her words present in a human example: think back to what we know first! If Helen Keller can find joy and power and inspiration and vision summed up in her brief words above, surely we can take courage and face our day with renewed grace and power from God's Presence.
Sometimes those who do not have a crisis looming or a huge, identifiable loss are the very ones living in the darkness.
We can become so acclimated to low-light conditions and low-level living that we are unaware that we move through our days with self-imposed limitations and unexamined minds. May light and truth penetrate our hearts as God 'draws in our palms' the message of unconditional love....of living w-a-t-e-r...and awakens our souls to live with the mighty power God provides.