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The Life of Helen Keller, A Series - Part 4 Nature & Religion
From near birth, Helen Keller treasured nature and the company of all things living - especially during a period of rising industrialization. From the calming hug of a dog’s blanketing coat, to the fragile touch of a flower’s petal, and the rough scrape of tree bark, Helen found respite in nature, which reached her in a way no person could.
For Helen, this kinship to nature was related to her spiritual awakening as a child. Of this Helen wrote, “I only know that after my education began the world which came within my reach was alive.”[i] Awakened to the spirit of all living things, Helen began spelling words to her faithful dog Lioness, beliving she could communicate with her. “I sympathized with plants when the flowers were picked, because I thought it hurt them, and that they grieved for their lost blossoms. It was years before I could be made to believe that my dogs did not understand what I said, and I always apologized to them when I ran into or stepped on them.”[ii]
Apart from this connection to the natural world around her, Helen also learned a great deal of herself from nature. “As my experiences broadened and deepened, the poetic feelings of childhood began to fix themselves in definite thoughts. Nature - the world I could touch - was folded and filled with myself.”[iii]
While Helen was known for her love of nature, perhaps her love for dogs was greatest. Owning numerous dogs at any one time, Helen was also famous for being the first American to own a rare-breed of Japanese dog, the Akita - a gift from the country of Japan.[iv] Helen too enjoyed caring for birds in her garden, and riding horses on her estate. Up until her passing, Helen could always be found strolling through her gardens, enjoying the warmth of an afternoon rain shower, or the song of crickets at nightfall.
[i]Keller, The World I Live In, pg. 119.
[ii]Keller, The World I Live In, pg. 119.
[iii]Keller, The World I Live In, pg. 119-120.
[iv]N. Rhoden & J. Hooper, “Helen Keller and the Forgotten Story of Her Akitas,” The Akita Journal, (1978).
Religion & Conviction
As she wandered amongst the gardens of her home as a child, Helen’s mind also began to wander. What drove life and the world around her, she wondered. When she asked her parents, they answered that Nature had created earth and sky and water and all living creatures. “This satisfied me for a time,” wrote Helen, “and I was happy among the rose-trees of my mother’s garden, or on the bank of a river, or out in the daisy-prained fields.”[i]
As time wore on, and Helen grew, this simple answer did not suffice. Helen rationalized that the same forces of nature that created a thunderstorm or helped turn a caterpillar into a butterfly were not present when her mother combined ingredients to make hot cakes.[ii] This created a lonely feeling in Helen that Nature was “no more concerned with me or those I loved than with a twig or a fly, and this awoke in me something akin to resentment.”[iii]
Moving away from nature as an explanation for all things, Helen began to question God’s role in the world around her. “Friends tried to tell me He was the Creator, and that He was everywhere, that He knew all the needs, joys, and sorrows of every human life, and nothing happened without his foreknowledge and providence.”[iv] Helen was drawn irresistibly to such a “glorious, lovable Being” as God, but felt she truly did not understand him.[v] Bishop Philip Brooks, a dear friend to Helen, helped in this understanding.
With his “simple soul-stirring words,” Bishop Brooks helped Helen to “grasp the central truth that God is Love, and that His Love is the ‘Light of all men.’”[vi] The numerous religions and denominations of the world, however, perplexed Helen. Bishop Brooks rationalized, “There is one universal religion, Helen - the religion of love. Love your Heavenly Father with your whole heart and soul, love every child of God as much as ever you can, and remember that the possibilities of good are greater than the possibilities of evil; and you have the key to Heaven.”[vii]
From these moving word, Helen’s life, personality, and purpose were altered eternally. Using her indifferent mind and thoughts, Helen attempted to teach others about the benefits of faith, regardless of religion or denomination. In doing so, Helen traveled the world until her soul’s departure, teaching others to love their fellow man, regardless of race, creed, class or disability.
True Helen was blind and deaf to the world, but she was never blind to the love and good of the people in it. This was Helen’s faith - an eternal light in her darkness, and a bell in her silence - shining and ringing against the ills of the world that she knew could be conquered.
[i]Helen Keller, Light in My Darkness, (West Chester: Chrysalis Books, 1994), pg. 29.
[ii]Keller, Light in My Darkness, pg. 30.
[iii]Keller, Light in My Darkness, pg. 31.
[iv]Keller, Light in My Darkness, pg. 32.
[v]Keller, Light in My Darkness, pg. 32.
[vi]Keller, Light in My Darkness, pg. 32.
[vii]Keller, The Story of My Life, pg. 134.
© Matthew Gordon, 2011