Helen Keller sat in her personal study, at her brail type writer, taking down notes from the day’s lessons in German, Latin, Economics and more. She was struggling through her second year of college.
As a child that was deaf, blind, and dumb, Helen had no way of communicating with anyone until Miss Anne Sullivan helped her discover language and gave her a way to convey thoughts. At the age of seven, Helen learned to read brail and wanted to read anything and everything she could. She wore out her books, even though she often didn’t understand what she was reading.
Now as she contemplated Elizabethan Literature, she remembers, when she was a young girl, telling her friends that she wasn’t just going to try to attend a preparatory school, but she was going to attend Harvard University. She didn’t make it to Harvard, but she was attending Radcliffe College. In fact a teacher at her prep school thought she was working herself too hard and tried to make her slow down.
She smiled to think of the victories she had won on that score.
A girl had asked her how she was able to keep up with her class mates, a question that she was asked frequently.
“The lectures are spelled into my hand as rapidly as possible, and much of the individuality of the lecturer is lost to me in the effort to keep in the race,” Helen replied. “The words rush through my hand like hounds in pursuit of a hare which they often miss. But in this respect I do not think I am much worse off than the girl who takes notes. If the mind is occupied with the mechanical process of hearing and putting words on paper at pell-mell speed, I should not think one could pay much attention to the subject under consideration or the manner in which it is presented. I cannot make notes during the lectures, because my hands are busy listening. Usually I jot down what I can remember of them when I get home. I write the exercises, daily themes, criticisms and hour-tests, the mid-year and final examinations, on my typewriter, so that the professors have no difficulty in finding out how little I know.”
But Helen did know quite a bit. She became efficient enough in English, German, Latin and French to read and discuss original works in those languages. She was the first deaf and blind person to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. She was well aware of the struggles she had and the obstacles she faced in a seeing and hearing world, but she didn’t dwell on it. She would later reflect:
“Very few of the books required in the various courses are printed for the blind, and I am obliged to have them spelled into my hand. Consequently I need more time to prepare my lessons than other girls. The manual part takes longer, and I have perplexities which they have not. There are days when the close attention I must give to details chafes my spirit, and the thought that I must spend hours reading a few chapters, while in the world without other girls are laughing and singing and dancing, makes me rebellious; but I soon recover my buoyancy and laugh the discontent out of my heart. For, after all, everyone who wishes to gain true knowledge must climb the Hill Difficulty alone, and since there is no royal road to the summit, I must zigzag it in my own way. I slip back many times, I fall, I stand still, I run against the edge of hidden obstacles, I lose my temper and find it again and keep it better, I trudge on, I gain a little, I feel encouraged, I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening horizon. Every struggle is a victory. One more effort and I reach the luminous cloud, the blue depths of the sky, the uplands of my desire.”
(Quotes come from Helen Keller’s Autobiography, The Story of My Life.)
Helen Keller became rather famous for her disabilities during her early years. She used this fame to bring attention to the difficulties people with her disabilities face. She helped to do a lot of good for the blind and deaf community because she learned to overcome the obstacles that could have held her back. She readily credits the people who helped her and supported her along the way, but she never made excuses for herself.
Take a few minutes to recognize the obstacles in your life. Then follow Helen’s example and laugh away your discontent. Focus on your objective and keep zigzagging up the Hill Difficulty. Don’t take the journey for granted. That’s part of the education.