Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. At birth she was a perfectly normal child, but at the age of nineteen months she suffered an illness that left her blind and deaf. This is a tragic story, but if it had not been for two remarkable women, no one but family and a few friends would have ever heard Helen’s name.
Helen’s mother loved her little daughter desperately, and wanted to help her live as normal a life as possible. Helen’s father and half brother were less sympathetic and wanted her institutionalized. Finally, Helen’s mother persuaded her husband to contact the school for the blind to find a teacher for Helen. That teacher was Annie Sullivan, who was immortalized in the 1962 film The Miracle Worker.
The film depicts the obstacles Sullivan faced in working with a child with whom she could not communicate and gives the audience insight into the seemingly hopeless situation. Yet, Sullivan never stops “teaching”, using sign language to spell into Helen’s palm the names for all the ordinary objects that Helen encounters each day. However, all of Sullivan’s efforts make no impression on the child until one day, after a particularly trying episode in which Helen throws a horrible tantrum and wrecks the family dining room, Sullivan once again takes Helen to the pump to fill the water jug and spells the word “water” into her palm over and over again as the water splashes across Helen’s other hand.
In that moment, Helen finally “gets it”. She understands for the first time that the spelling into her palm is not just a series of random touches—each touch has meaning. And in that moment, a whole new world opens for Helen. She was lost in a black, silent existence until a nineteen-year-old nearly blind “teacher” used everything she possessed to save her.
I began this post with a question: “Will someone you love have a Helen Keller moment?” That question may seem odd since you probably do not have a loved one who is both blind and deaf. However, the chances are good that you are close to someone who is unsaved and is, therefore, both blind and deaf to the all that God has for him.
Helen’s mother loved her and hoped that she could avoid institutionalizing her, but she did not know how she would be able to avoid it. When Annie Sullivan came into Helen’s life, however, she came with a different perspective. She had been institutionalized as a child, and she knew first-hand the horrors of life in an institution at that time—the rats, the substandard food, the cold, the abuse—and she wanted desperately to save Helen from that life.
Everyone needs an Annie Sullivan; if you have a loved one who is unsaved you can be his or her Annie Sullivan. If you are a Christian, you know the horrors awaiting those who die without Jesus so do not be put off when that person you are trying so desperately to reach pushes you away. Pray for him or her daily; witness to him or her every time you have an opportunity—both with your life and with your lips. And never give up, because you never know at what moment everything will fall into place and your loved one will “get it”. You never know when all that you have invested in him in time and prayers and a life lived as a good example will suddenly break through and deliver him from the dark, silent world of sin that that has separated him from God’s love.
During this Christmas season, remember all that Jesus has done for you, beginning with that humble birth in a manger, and share that story with everyone who will listen. Even if those you love do not experience their Helen Keller moment for many years, every time you “spell into their palms” you bring them one step closer to that day when it will all come together and bring them into the light.