Deep insights out of disability

A deeply insightful, profoundly disabled, broadly respected woman, Helen Keller lived a life that continues to touch many.  Helen Keller cover

Last month, over a period of two or three weeks, I listened to an audio recording of Keller’s autobiography The Story of My Life and felt various points of impact.  Among those was the ease with which the author moved among various levels of complimentary and negatively revealing personal insights.  She seems—and here I use the present tense intentionally, because it all seemed so very present to me—to be able to speak of herself with a rare blend of humility and pride, with joy and with periodic shame, and all with agile grace.

In the passage below, taken from a late chapter about her favorite pieces of literature, Keller describes the Bible both in general and specific terms.  Note her honesty, her childlike remembrances, her self-analysis . . . and her surpassing joy, in coming to grips with a different level of faith in the unseen.

I began to read the Bible long before I could understand it.  Now it seems strange to me that there should have been a time when my spirit was deaf to its wondrous harmonies; but I remember well a rainy Sunday morning when, having nothing else to do, I begged my cousin to read me a story out of the Bible.  Although she did not think I should understand, she began to spell into my hand the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Somehow it failed to interest me.  The unusual language and repetition made the story seem unreal and far away in the land of Canaan, and I fell asleep and wandered off to the land of Nod, before the brothers came with the coat of many colours unto the tent of Jacob and told their wicked lie!  I cannot understand why the stories of the Greeks should have been so full of charm for me, and those of the Bible so devoid of interest, unless it was that I had made the acquaintance of several Greeks in Boston and been inspired by their enthusiasm for the stories of their country; whereas I had not met a single Hebrew or Egyptian, and therefore concluded that they were nothing more than barbarians, and the stories about them were probably all made up. . . .

But how shall I speak of the glories I have since discovered in the Bible?  For years I have read it with an ever-broadening sense of joy and inspiration; and I love it as I love no other book.  Still there is much in the Bible against which every instinct of my being rebels, so much that I regret the necessity which has compelled me to read it through from beginning to end.  I do not think that the knowledge which I have gained of its history and sources compensates me for the unpleasant details it has forced upon my attention.  For my part, I wish, with Mr. Howells, that the literature of the past might be purged of all that is ugly and barbarous in it, although I should object as much as any one to having these great works weakened or falsified.

There is something impressive, awful, in the simplicity and terrible directness of the book of Esther.  Could there be anything more dramatic than the scene in which Esther stands before her wicked lord?  She knows her life is in his hands; there is no one to protect her from his wrath. Yet, conquering her woman’s fear, she approaches him, animated by the noblest patriotism, having but one thought:  “If I perish, I perish; but if I live, my people shall live.”

The story of Ruth, too—how Oriental it is!  Yet how different is the life of these simple country folks from that of the Persian capital!  Ruth is so loyal and gentle-hearted, we cannot help loving her, as she stands with the reapers amid the waving corn.  Her beautiful, unselfish spirit shines out like a bright star in the night of a dark and cruel age.  Love like Ruth’s, love which can rise above conflicting creeds and deep-seated racial prejudices, is hard to find in all the world.

The Bible gives me a deep, comforting sense that “things seen are temporal, and things unseen are eternal.”

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