The Miracle? That Anyone Cares at All

I watched Miracle Worker tonight--the 1962 MGM version with Anne Bancroft starring as Annie Sullivan and the young Patty Duke as the blind, deaf, and mute Helen Keller--and was stunned anew into a silent awe for Sullivan's passionate commitment to connecting language to the concrete world for a young girl with no points of reference, no context, no hope in a world that would rather label her Stupid and lock her away.

Duke's Keller goes straight to the heart. I feel her loneliness, fear, and sadness--all products of her isolation. People and things take form in her life as shapes pushing through the immeasurable dark of her ineffable world. She has no context to help her determine whether these are good things or bad, no notion of goodness or badness, even. I realized watching this angry, frightened, spoiled child lashing out in fear and loneliness for something she can't name that the unnameable thing is confidence. For those of blessed with sight and hearing, that confidence is born of a moral certainty based on the senses.

This is the confidence to trust your footing, to move toward safe and welcoming people and places. To trust your eyes to tell you whether you really want the food on your plate, whether your teacher really wants you to succeed, whether your mother really loves you. Without that confidence, you're left screaming in the dark. How much of life is built on wordless, sensory data?

Thanks to Sullivan's compassion, courage, and confidence, Keller goes on to graduate from Radcliffe with honors in 1904. Sullivan is a teacher who has the courage to endure being resisted--reviled, even--by her student. Sullivan's commitment is to the Helen Keller who could achieve this once she grew past lashing out in anger by breaking dishes, biting, and otherwise trashing the house. Sullivan knew about the soul. She knew beauty when she saw it, and she knew pain.

Who has that kind of commitment to another? Who banks on the possibility of human connection? Who gives it all away to another?


  1. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Hi Sandy, One of my favorite quotes is one by Helen Keller, "The best and most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart." My best, Laurie (Elise's mommy)

  2. Anonymous9:17 PM

    "Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose - not the one you began with perhaps, but one you'll be glad to remember." (Sullivan)

    We all hope we'll have that special teacher as we're growing up. I dare say that few turn out as special as Sullivan. Her struggles Helen and Helen's family were incredible. She could've given up any time, but she persevered, and oh how wlucky Helen was.

  3. Thanks for your comments. Thanks for sharing the quotes. I was thinking today Keller must have had an extraordinary mind to go from touch to concept to communication without the aid of eyes or ears. Sullivan's passion and compassion were pretty darn remarkable, too. Every sense and ability we have is amazing, yet when lack or lose them, even more amazing things happen.


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