Just One Word
She was nearly blind. She was born on April 14, 1866 to Irish immigrants. Life was hard and from the age of three her vision began to fail. To add to her sorrow, Annie’s mother died of tuberculosis when she was eight. Her younger two sisters were farmed out to relatives. Annie tried to care for her father by herself. But at the age of nine, she was sent to Massachusetts State Poorhouse in Tewkesbury. Her poor vision, though, became a blessing in disguise. At the age of fourteen, a new institute welcomed her with open arms, the Perkins Institute for the Blind.
Six years later, Annie, at the age of twenty, would graduate from college. Then on March 3, 1887, Annie stepped from a train into a small town in Alabama where she was met by a young mother named Kate. Kate had a daughter who had been born with all of her senses but at the age of nineteen months she had become deaf and blind. Kate’s daughter was named Helen.
So began the fascinating story of a teacher who was almost blind, who opened the world to a seven year old child, who couldn’t see, who couldn’t speak, and who couldn’t hear. Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller would be inseparable in life. It was indeed, the “blind leading the blind.” In fact they would even be inseparable in death for in Washington Cathedral, along with presidents and other notable citizens, a special place in the chapel was reserved for Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller to be buried together.
It was long after Annie’s death that Helen Keller spoke at a ceremony at Radcliffe College where she had received her degree. That day a fountain was being dedicated in honor of Annie Sullivan, Helen’s teacher. Although Helen could speak at this time; although Helen was a prolific author at this time; although Helen was a world traveler at this time and welcomed in the halls of Parliament and in the courts of kings and queens; although she was a highly intelligent woman and had made speeches all over the world….on that day, emotion overwhelmed Helen and when it came time for her to speak at the dedication of the flowing fountain, she uttered only one word…one word…..just one word. The same word that was signed into her hand over and over by her teacher. The word that had opened her world and had connected her back to the land of the living. At that moment, standing before a fountain in Boston, Helen’s mind went back to a little Alabama town where she had raced from the house so frustrated and gone to her favorite hideout by the well.
Her teacher, Annie, had found her there. She had begun to pump water from the well and as it splashed over Helen’s hands, Annie began to sign that one word over and over again into Helen’s hands. Until from the memory dredged up when she remembered a word, a word that she had spoken, and she began to try to speak that single word. That same word that the now eloquent Helen spoke at a dedication ceremony, seventy-three years later. The shortest public speech in history, a single word. That word…..“Water”.
I found a quote from Annie Sullivan. She said, “Love is something like the clouds that are in the sky. You can’t touch them, you know. But you feel the rain and you know how glad the flowers and the thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You can’t touch love either. . . But you can feel the sweetness that it pours into everything.” (This entire article was copied).