“Once I knew only darkness and stillness … my life was without past or future … but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.”
— Helen Keller
Those words by Helen Keller, from her famous 1903 essay “Optimism,” capture the point at which her life of darkness and silence suddenly changed and she began a journey that has inspired millions of people around the world.
That “little word” was water, and the fingers that miraculously pierced Keller’s lightless and silent world belonged to the creative and dedicated teacher named Johanna “Anne” Mansfield Sullivan.
All of us know — or should know — Keller’s story well. She was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. At the age of 2, she fell seriously ill. She survived, yet was left deaf, blind and mute.
Keller became unruly as she grew into childhood. But then Sullivan entered Keller’s life when she was 7 years old. The young woman and teacher, who also struggled with sight impairment all her life, introduced Keller to words by manually signing into the child’s hands. Although considered bright, Keller at first didn’t understand what the words meant. But then Sullivan took Keller to an outdoor water pump.
While she ran water over one of Keller’s hands, Sullivan signed the word “water” into Keller’s other hand. Suddenly, Keller’s mind grasped the concept Sullivan was trying to teach. By the end of the day, she reportedly learned 30 words. Keller’s silent and dark world was now a spark of insatiable curiosity.
With Sullivan as her constant companion and communicator, Keller graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904 with a bachelor’s of arts degree cum laude. While in college, she began to write her autobiography, “The Story of My Life.” It was published in 1903.
Before she died in 1968, Keller became a world-renowned writer, activist for the sight impaired, and a celebrity. Her autobiography was translated into dozens of other languages and is still in print. Her archives feature nearly 500 inspiring speeches and essays on a variety of topics.
Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and numerous other dignitaries and officials called her friend. Keller also received several honorary doctoral degrees, and an honorary Academy Award for a documentary about her life.
This editorial, previously published in part in 2016, highlights the miraculous and inspiring story of Keller — and the teacher who found a way past Keller’s “darkness and stillness” and made her heart leap toward “the rapture of living.”
With the 2018-19 school year officially underway today, this editorial also highlights how great teachers change the lives of children everyday. We have 797 such teachers in the Tooele County School District who greeted 17,343 students this morning.
To every teacher, we express gratitude for your commitment to inspire students’ hearts and minds to learn and seek a future of greatness. Such good work is vital to the continued development of mankind, and is essential to our nation’s democratic ideals.