Helen Keller: Anything is Possible

by Denise

“Anything is possible.”

Helen Keller

That’s all I could think after watching the bio-pic The Miracle Worker.   The movie portrays the early life of Helen Keller, a woman who became both deaf and blind as an infant and lived a wild, instinct-driven existence in her early childhood because her family had no way of teaching her or communicating with her beyond very basic exchanges.  Eventually, her now-renown teacher, Anne Sullivan introduced her to language by getting Helen to make the connection between the sensation of water running over her hands and the letters w-a-t-e-r being pressed into her hand using sign language.  Once Helen made this association, she wanted to know the name of everything around her and quickly began absorbing as much as she could.   (to hear a very interesting story of an man who had not acquired language by adulthood, go here:  http://www.radiolab.org/2010/aug/09/)

Ms. Keller’s experience in learning language is fascinating from a philosophy of language standpoint, but even more so as a testament to the strength of the human spirit.  Not only did Ms. Keller learn language, she ultimately became an author, speaker, and activist who travelled internationally.   She worked on behalf of the disabled and advocated for social causes she believed in.

If Helen Keller, again, both deaf and blind from infancy, could become the woman that she became, there are no excuses for the rest of us.  Ms. Keller was undoubtedly very intellectually gifted, but it seems that she also had a genuine hunger to know and understand the world around her and to engage in it.  Even in her rambling darkness as a deaf-blind child, she continually reached out to the world around her.  As she grew, her persistence led her to completing a college degree and receiving honorary degrees later in life.  But even greater than her educational accomplishments, was her attitude about life that is exemplified in this quote:

Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker (Playfilm Productions 1962)

“Many people have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness; it is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” –Helen Keller

Ms. Keller was not about herself.  Perhaps her physical limitations would have made it fruitless to attempt to live a life of self-gratification—how could she go about it?  But Ms. Keller went beyond personal accomplishment and lived a life of service, working primarily on behalf of others and giving what gifts she did have to others.

If we have the right attitude about life, anything is possible, even with the severest of hardship and limitations.  But if we have the wrong attitude, then even the simplest of accomplishments will be impossible for us.  Ms. Keller showed that you can never allow your hunger to reach out, to engage, to learn and grow wane; and more importantly than that, that our zest for life will bring true fulfillment when we transcend ourselves and focus our energies on improving the world around us.