I consider Helen Keller one of the most influential people of all time and because of that I want to compile this email by sharing some of her quotes and stories from her astonishing life. I hope I am not sending too much information. She was a phenomenal individual and I hope you can learn some valuable principles that you can adapt into your everyday life. To begin with, here is an introduction into her background using a quote from President James E. Faust.
“Before she was two years of age, she lost her sight and hearing. She never married but became internationally famous, helping literally thousands of people live more complete and happy lives. She took three years to learn the alphabet as her teacher reached her mind by touching the back of her hand. She listened to others by putting her middle finger on the speaker’s nose, three fingers on the lips, and her thumb on the larynx. She graduated from Radcliffe College with honors and began a remarkable writing career.
“Helen Keller was once asked by a reporter, ‘What can be worse than being blind?’ She replied, ‘Having eyes to see but no vision.’Having the vision of our worth and capability is an essential prerequisite to finding fulfillment. We also need vision to glimpse what God intends us to be now and in the eternities.”1
Helen Keller, in her autobiography, defines a little more about herself and the pivoting point in her life that enlightens us as to her transformation and her newly felt freedom.
“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
“I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”2
In reality, I can imagine those investigating the church having those same life-changing feelings that Helen felt that day. Sister Joni Lybbert, serving in Spokane Washington, told of her recollections as the baptism of Josie, age 8, occurred. Her reflective thoughts caused me to think which swayed me to ponder upon my own ideals.
“Little Josie is getting baptized in a few weeks. She’s a superstar. She has so much faith and a desire to do right.
“Sometimes I just wish I could jet back to when I was eight and hold onto all those good characteristics that I already knew and lived. Like loving people no matter what, just having faith that things are going to work out and being happy because, why not? Why not be happy? Why not be kind to others? Why not forgive freely? Why not have faith that the Almighty God who created me will take care of my needs?
“Josie has a good heart, and I want to be more like her. I spent all this time wanting to grow up and then realize that I had more right, when I was younger. I just need to get back to that. Like King Benjamin taught, I need to ‘becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah3:19).’”3
Anne Sullivan, Helen’s teacher, had awakened in Helen something she desired, which enticed her to evolve, learn, live and become eventually a meaningful inspiration to many. Elder Vaugn J. Featherstone provided this short story about Helen Keller and specifically her teacher Anne Sullivan.
“When Queen Victoria of England pinned one of England’s highest awards on Helen Keller, she asked [her], ‘How do you account for your remarkable accomplishment in life? How do you explain the fact that even though you were both blind and deaf, you were able to accomplish so much?’ Without a moment’s hesitation, Helen Keller said,‘If it had not been for Anne Sullivan, the name of Helen Keller would have remained unknown.’”
“While we know Helen Keller’s story, most of us do not know who saw the potential in Anne Sullivan. As a young girl, Anne Sullivan was known as ‘Little Annie.’ She was diagnosed as being hopelessly insane and was locked in the basement of a mental institution outside of Boston. Little Annie would on occasion violently attack anyone who came near her. At other times she would completely ignore them.
“An elderly nurse believed there was hope for the child and felt she could communicate love and hope to her. The nurse daily visited Little Annie, but for a long time Little Annie gave no indication she was aware of her presence. The elderly nurse persisted and repeatedly brought some cookies and left them in [the] room. Soon the doctors in the institution noticed a change. After a period of time, they moved Little Annie upstairs. Finally the day came when this seemingly ‘hopeless case’ was released. Filled with compassion for others because of her institution experience, Little Annie, Anne Sullivan, wanted to help others.
“Therefore, it was Anne Sullivan who saw the great potential in Helen Keller. She loved her, disciplined her, played, prayed, pushed, and worked with her until the flickering candle that was her life became a beacon that helped light the pathway and lighten the burdens of people all over the world. But first there was the elderly nurse, then Anne Sullivan, then Helen Keller, and finally each one of us, and additional millions, who have been influenced by the people of Helen Keller (Vital Speeches of the Day, p. 42).”
“An unknown elderly nurse [who we don’t even know her name] made a monumental contribution to our society. Anne Sullivan honored that nurse and Helen Keller honored Anne Sullivan. In the same way, as we honor God by going the second mile, He will honor us.”4
President David McKay once told an experience of Helen Keller’s that illustrates her extraordinary sensitivity to her sense of touch.
“Have you ever read Helen Keller’s comment on a friend who had just taken a walk in the woods, who in answer to Helen’s question, ‘What did you observe?’ she replied, ‘Nothing in particular.’ ‘How is it possible,’ Helen asked herself, ‘to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? I, who cannot see, find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough shaggy bark of a pine. In the spring I touch the branches of trees hopefully in search of a bud, the first sign of awakening Nature after her winter’s sleep. Occasionally, if I am very fortunate, I place my hand gently on a small tree and feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song.’”5
Being blind and deaf, Helen’s sense of touch became enhanced and far more sensitive. Now, with this in mind, imagine the endless possibilities that could be yours, if you could utilize your sensitivity to the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, as Helen Keller learned to utilize her gift of touch. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin in his address, “The Unspeakable Gift”, emphasizes the following point, which is one of my favorite all-time quotes of his.
“I fear that some members of the Lord’s Church ‘live beneath our privileges’ with regard to the gift of the Holy Ghost (See Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, sell. John A. Widsoe , 32.).… This is a noisy and busy world that we live in.… If we are not careful, the things of this world can crowd out the things of the Spirit.
“Some are spiritually deadened and past feeling.… Others simply hover in spiritual complacency with no desire to rise above themselves…
“If they would open their hearts to the refining influence of this unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, a glorious new spiritual dimension would come to light. Their eyes would gaze upon a vista scarcely imaginable. They could know for themselves things of the Spirit that are choice, precious, and capable of enlarging the soul, expanding the mind, and filling the heart with inexpressible joy.”6
Imagine how different and boundless your missions could be with the consciousness, sensitivity to, and awareness of the Spirit.
Helen Keller had a strong belief in unity and togetherness. The following is a WebPress article explaining the African word “Ubuntu” which illustrates this same belief.
Ububtu—a Lesson from the Children
An anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days. So he decided to play a little game with them. He managed to get candy from the nearest town and put it all in a decorated basket at the foot of a tree. Then he called the children and suggested they play the game. When the anthropologist said “now”, the children had to run to the tree and the first one to get there could have all the candy to him/herself. So the children all lined up waiting for the signal. When the anthropologist said “now”, all of the children took each other by the hand and ran together towards the tree. They all arrived at the same time, divided up the candy, sat down and began to happily munch away. The anthropologist went over to them and asked why they had all run together when any one of them could have had the candy all to themselves. The children responded: “Ubuntu. How could any one of us be happy if all the others were sad?” Ubuntu is a philosophy of African tribes that can be summed up as “I am what I am because of who we all are.”
Bishop Desmond Tutu gave this explanation in 2008:
“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu—the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality “Ubuntu” you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”7
The following is another one of my favorite quotes from Helen Keller that coincides with this African concept of “Ubuntu”(I am what I am because of who we all are). That great soul Helen Keller put it this way.
“I believe that love will finally establish the kingdom of God on earth, and that the cornerstones of that kingdom will be liberty, truth, brotherhood, and service. I believe that we can live on earth according to the fulfillment of God’s will, and that when the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven, every man will love his fellow men and act toward them as he desires they should act toward him. I believe that the welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all”(The Face of Helen Keller, ed. Jack Belck, Hallmark ed., 1967, p. 32).8
As a bonus feature, I have included a pdf of a segment of a story of when Helen Keller visited the Tabernacle here on Temple Square. This is an excerpt fromThe Place of KnowingbyEmma Lou Thayne(Emma Lou Thayne wrote Hymn # 129, Where Can I Turn for Peace ...)I have already surpassed my limit for content and thought of doing it this way. My apologies!9
In the following two stories, you can feel of the sensitivity to the Spirit these missionaries have had. The first is from Sister Kaia Wallin who just finished serving her mission in Germany.
“It’s 85 degrees and humid. You drive into a tiny parking lot next to some tall, white, business looking buildings and the lot is mostly empty. You’ve been driving for about an hour, and want to stretch a little as you get out. You walk up to one of the green doors, open it, and find yourself in a white stairwell. One of the walls is a giant mirror. You walk up two flights of stairs past some offices and businesses. None of them are open, because it’s Sunday. Finally, to the right side, you turn into a dark corner and see a wooden door. Next to the Door is a metal plaque that reads, ‘Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der Letzten Tage.’
“As you walk in, there is a small lobby area. To the right is the Branch President’s office, just left of the Chapel. There is only enough room for, at most, 30 chairs in the chapel. There are two small hallways of classrooms that rarely get used, and one small kitchen. They’ve opened the windows to try to let in some air, even though all the air is warm and humid. Someone in the chapel is playing hymns and down the hallway you can see a picture of Christ. The following verse comes to mind, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,’ (Matt 18:20). And so He is.
“Every other Sunday, we have the privilege of visiting this small branch in Prenzlau. Yesterday, we were 10 people strong—only 3 Priesthood leaders, one of whom was a visitor. Almost every week, one of the missionaries is giving a talk, or a Sunday school lesson. Sister Gebhard and I do a musical number every time we come. There is a sweet sister in the Branch who told us of a hymn that is no longer in the Hymnbook that she wished she could hear again. We found it, and yesterday, I sang it for her. I stood up and sang with all the clarity and faith I could, ‘Jesus, mein Heiland, laß mich hören deine Stimm. Laß mich dich lieben, mit Herz und mit Sinn.’ (Jesus, my Savior, let me hear thy voice. Let me love thee with heart and with mind.)
“Sometimes, it’s hard to have hope when looking back into their tired faces. They’ve been holding on so hard and for so long with no relief or reward—God loves all His children, even the dear Saints of Prenzlau. He has not left them alone, or comfortless, and as I sang, I watched the Spirit calm their hearts and speak peace to their minds. There is so much hope for these strong Saints! We may not see the solutions or know the way, but we have put our trust in the Lord, and we are giving our all, cheerfully, and waiting to see His arm be revealed. I trust Him. I love Him. God bless these wonderful Saints! I love them.
“The next time you are faced with a trial or want to give up, think of Prenzlau. I know I will.
“I want to share with you one of their stories. One of these sweet Sisters owns a Gasthaus, or a place where visitors can rent out small rooms. Several years ago, two missionaries came up and asked if they could rent a room for perhaps 2 years. But even after the shock of the strange request, she made a contract with them. The missionaries would come and go and eventually, after watching them and asking them questions, she was baptized, and has remained a faithful member of the church. In every room of her Gasthaus, she leaves a Book of Mormon. Recently, a young man came and asked about the book in his room, and they began to talk. He gave her his information so she could send him the missionaries. As it turns out, Sister Tolman (my last companion) was transferred to the Area where he lived, took the referral with her, and she and her new companion are now teaching that man. She told me that he is so prepared.
“There is always hope. The task ahead may seem impossible, but there is always hope. We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us. I love bringing hope to these people!”10
This next experience is from the blog of Sister Julia Snow serving in the Tokyo Japan Mission.
“Because of the meetings, we were late getting our train to meet the Shibuya sisters for exchanges, which must have been part of God’s plan because we met ‘V’, The biggest miracle of my mission!! Sister Biddle and I were sitting at Ikebukuro Station waiting for our train. A lady walked by so we said hello. She turned around with a big smile on her face. Shecame over to us and asked where we were from. We started talking with herso she sat down next to us. We learned that she is from Brazil and was Catholic growing up as a child. We told her that we were missionaries and then she started tocry. We were unsure why she was crying.
“She explained to us thatthat morning she had helped someone then prayed that someone would beas nice to her that day and just talk to her. Just seconds before she sawus, she was looking at Facebook and read that it was the day of angelsand that she would meet angels today. Then she saw us. She saidshe knew God was speaking to her through us. She was just crying andcrying. I can’t even explain the feeling that was there. God’s lovewas so evident toward this woman. We all just sat there crying togetheras Sister Biddle and I testified that God loved her. She said, ‘I wouldlove to come to your church this week.’ It was so cool!!! She is soprepared! It was amazing to experience that! …
“The Spirit and the amount of God’s love Ifelt when I met ‘V’ is unexplainable. The best I can explain it is Ifelt like it was a long time reunion with a friend, like she had finallyfound us after searching for a long time. So cool!!!!!!11
1. James E. Faust, "A Vision of What We Can Be," Ensign, Mar 1996,10.
2. The Story of my Life, Helen Keller's Autobiography
3. Sister Joni Lybbert, Spokane Washington Mission, 5 August 2014
4. Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Secret of the Second Mile
5. "Lesson 32: The Importance of Life," Young Women Manual 2, 122.
6. Joseph B. Wirthlin, "The Unspeakable Gift," Liahona, May 2003, 26-29.
8. Mary Ellen Edmunds, "On the Way to a Miracle," New Era, Mar 1988, 12.
9. Emma Lou Warner Thayne, The Place of Knowing, A Spiritual Autobiography.
10. Sister Kaia Wallin, Berlin Germany Mission, 7 Jul 2014
11. Sister Julia Snow, Tokyo Japan Mission, 28 Jul 2014
My dear friend, seek out the Spirit in all that you do and develop a sensitivity to like none other. As you do so you will, as Elder Wirthlin believes, “gaze upon a vista scarcely imaginable. You will know for yourself things of the Spirit that are choice, precious, and capable of enlarging your soul, expanding your mind, and filling your heart with inexpressible joy”. You are a precious individual placed where you are to do a great and marvelous work, to be an influence for good in the lives of many. May you do so along side our Lord, Jesus Christ, finding and returning His lost sheep. You are loved and prayed for by this family and many others I am sure. Keep safe!