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Story of My Life, by Helen Keller
I: Chapter VI
had now the key to all language, and I was eager to learn to use it.
Children who hear acquire language without any particular effort; the
words that fall from others' lips they catch on the wing, as it were,
delightedly, while the little deaf child must trap them by a slow and
often painful process. But whatever the process, the result is wonderful.
Gradually from naming an object we advance step by step until we have
traversed the vast distance between our first stammered syllable and the
sweep of thought in a line of Shakespeare.
first, when my teacher told me about a new thing I asked very few
questions. My ideas were vague, and my vocabulary was inadequate; but as
my knowledge of things grew, and I learned more and more words, my field
of inquiry broadened, and I would return again and again to the same
subject, eager for further information. Sometimes a new word revived an
image that some earlier experience had engraved on my brain.
remember the morning that I first asked the meaning of the word,
"love." This was before I knew many words. I had found a few
early violets in the garden and brought them to my teacher. She tried to
kiss me: but at that time I did not like to have any one kiss me except my
mother. Miss Sullivan put her arm gently round me and spelled into my
hand, "I love Helen."
is love?" I asked.
drew me closer to her and said, "It is here," pointing to my
heart, whose beats I was conscious of for the first time. Her words
puzzled me very much because I did not then understand anything unless I
smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words, half in signs, a
question which meant, "Is love the sweetness of flowers?"
said my teacher.
I thought. The warm sun was shining on us.
this not love?" I asked, pointing in the direction from which the
heat came. "Is this not love?"
seemed to me that there could be nothing more beautiful than the sun, whose
warmth makes all things grow. But Miss Sullivan shook her head, and I was
greatly puzzled and disappointed. I thought it strange that my teacher could
not show me love.
day or two afterward I was stringing beads of different sizes in symmetrical
groups--two large beads, three small ones, and so on. I had made many
mistakes, and Miss Sullivan had pointed them out again and again with gentle
patience. Finally I noticed a very obvious error in the sequence and for an
instant I concentrated my attention on the lesson and tried to think how I
should have arranged the beads. Miss Sullivan touched my forehead and
spelled with decided emphasis, "Think."
a flash I knew that the word was the name of the process that was going on
in my head. This was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea.
a long time I was still--I was not thinking of the beads in my lap, but
trying to find a meaning for "love" in the light of this new idea.
The sun had been under a cloud all day, and there had been brief showers;
but suddenly the sun broke forth in all its southern splendour.
I asked my teacher, "Is this not love?"
is something like the clouds that were in the sky before the sun came
out," she replied. Then in simpler words than these, which at that time
I could not have understood, she explained: "You cannot touch the
clouds, you know; but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and
the thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love
either; but you feel the sweetness that it pours into everything. Without
love you would not be happy or want to play."
beautiful truth burst upon my mind--I felt that there were invisible lines
stretched between my spirit and the spirits of others.
the beginning of my education Miss Sullivan made it a practice to speak to
me as she would speak to any hearing child; the only difference was that she
spelled the sentences into my hand instead of speaking them. If I did not
know the words and idioms necessary to express my thoughts she supplied
them, even suggesting conversation when I was unable to keep up my end of
process was continued for several years; for the deaf child does not learn
in a month, or even in two or three years, the numberless idioms and
expressions used in the simplest daily intercourse. The little hearing child
learns these from constant repetition and imitation. The conversation he
hears in his home stimulates his mind and suggests topics and calls forth
the spontaneous expression of his own thoughts. This natural exchange of
ideas is denied to the deaf child. My teacher, realizing this, determined to
supply the kinds of stimulus I lacked. This she did by repeating to me as
far as possible, verbatim, what she heard, and by showing me how I could
take part in the conversation. But it was a long time before I ventured to
take the initiative, and still longer before I could find something
appropriate to say at the right time. The
deaf and the blind find it very difficult to acquire the amenities of
conversation. How much more this difficulty must be augmented in the case of
those who are both deaf and blind! They cannot distinguish the tone of the
voice or, without assistance, go up and down the gamut of tones that give
significance to words; nor can they watch the expression of the speaker's
face, and a look is often the very soul of what one says.
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