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Keller, Helen — Story of My Life: Part 6

Helen Keller’s Own Story of Her Life

Written Entirely by the Wonderful Girl Herself

“In the story of my life here presented to the readers of The Ladies’ Home Journal, I have tried to show that afflictions may be looked at in such a way that they become privileges.”

 by Helen Keller, Cambridge, 1902


I TRUST that the readers of THE LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL have not concluded from the chapter on books in the preceding number of the magazine that reading is my only pleasure; for my pleasures and amusements are as varied as my moods.

Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Photo: Public Domain

More than once in the course of my story I have referred to my love of the country and out-of-door sports. When I was quite a little girl I learned to row and swim, and during the summer, when I am at Wrentham, Massachusetts, I almost live in my boat. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to take my friends out rowing when they visit me. Of course, I cannot guide the boat very well. Some one usually sits in the stern and manages the rudder while I row. Sometimes, however, I venture out without the rudder. It is such fun to try to steer by the scent of watergrasses and lilies, and of bushes that grow on the shore. I use oars with leather bands, which keep them in position in the oar-locks, and know by the resistance of the water when the oars are evenly poised. In the same manner I can also tell when I am pulling against the current. I like to contend with wind and wave. What is more exhilarating than to make your staunch little boat, obedient to your will and muscle, go skimming lightly over glistening, tilting waves, and to feel the steady, imperious surge of the water!

I ALSO enjoy canoeing, and I suppose you I will smile when I say that I especially like it on moonlight nights. I cannot, it is true, see the moon climb up the sky behind the pines and steal softly across the heavens, making a shining path for us to follow; but I know she is there, and as I lie back among the pillows and put my hand in the water I fancy that I feel the shimmer of her garments as she passes. Sometimes a daring little fish slips between my fingers, and often a pond-lily presses shyly against my hand. Frequently as we emerge from the shelter of a cove or inlet I am suddenly conscious of the spaciousness of the air about me. A luminous warmth seems to infold me. Whether it comes from the trees which have been heated by the sun, or from the water, I can never discover. I have had the same strange sensation even in the heart of the city. I have felt it on cold, stormy days and at night. It is like the kiss of warm lips on my face.

My favorite amusement, I think, is sailing. Last summer I visited Nova Scotia and had opportunities such as I had not enjoyed before to make the acquaintance of the ocean. After spending a few days in Evangeline’s country, about which Longfellow’s beautiful poem has woven a spell of enchantment, Miss Sullivan and I went to Halifax, where we remained the greater part of the summer. The harbor was our joy, our paradise. What glorious sails we had to Bedford Basin, to McNabb’s Island, to York Redoubt and to the North-West Arm! And at night what soothing, wondrous hours we spent in the shadow of the great, silent men-of-war. Oh, it was all so interesting, so beautiful ! The memory of it is a joy forever.

One day we had a thrilling experience. There was a “regatta” in the North-West Arm, in which the boats from the different warships were engaged. We went in a sailboat along with many others to watch the races.

Hundreds of little sailboats swung to and fro close by, and the sea was calm. When the races were over, and we turned our faces homeward, one of the party noticed a black cloud drifting in from the sea, which grew and spread and thickened until it covered the whole sky. The wind rose, and the waves chopped angrily at unseen barriers. Our little boat confronted the gale fearlessly; with sails spread and ropes taut, she seemed to sit upon the wind! Now she swirled in the billows, now she sprang upward on a gigantic wave, only to be driven down with angry howl and hiss. Down came the mainsail. Tacking and jibbing, we wrestled with opposing winds that drove us from side to side with impetuous fury. Our hearts beat fast, and our hands trembled with excitement not fear; for we had the hearts of vikings, and we knew that our skipper was master of the situation. He had steered through many a storm with firm hand and steady eye. At last, cold, hungry and weary, we reached our pier amid the shouts and salutes from the large craft and the gunboats in the harbor. All the seamen in the harbor were applauding the master of the only little sailboat that ventured out into the storm.

Red Farm Tree Lined Road, Wrentham, 1905
Red Farm Tree Lined Road, Wrentham, 1905
Source: The Disability History Museum

I AM writing this chapter of my story in one of the loveliest nooks of one of the most charming villages in New England. Moreover, Wrentham is associated with nearly all of my joys and sorrows. For many years Red Farm, by King Philip’s Pond, the home of Mr. J. E. Chamberlin and his family, was my home. I remember with deepest gratitude the kindness of these dear friends and the happy days I spent with them. The sweet companionship of their children meant much to me. I joined in all their sports and rambles through the woods and frolics in the water. The quaint prattle of the little ones and their pleasure in the stories I told them of elf and gnome, of hero and wily bear, are pleasant things to remember. Mr. Chamberlin initiated me into the mysteries of tree and wildflower, until with the little ear of love I heard the flow of sap in the oak and saw the sun glint from leaf to leaf.

I have many tree-friends in Wrentham. One of them, a splendid oak, is the special pride of my heart. I take all my other friends to see this king-tree. It stands on a bluff overlooking King Philip’s Pond, and those who are wise in tree lore say it must have stood there eight hundred or a thousand years. There is a tradition that under this tree King Philip, the heroic Indian chief, gazed his last on earth and sky.

I had another tree-friend, gentle and more approachable than the great oak — a linden that grew in the dooryard at Red Farm. One afternoon, during a terrible thunderstorm, I felt a tremendous crash against the side of the house and knew, even before they told me, that the linden had fallen. We went out to see the hero that had withstood so many tempests, and it wrung my heart to see him prostrate who had mightily striven and was now mightily fallen.

But I must not forget that I was going to write about this summer in particular. As soon as my examinations were over Miss Sullivan and I hastened to this green nook, where we have a little cottage on one of the three lakes for which Wrentham is famous. Here the long, sunny days have been mine, with all thought of work and college and the noisy city thrust into the background. In Wrentham we catch echoes of what is happening in the world. Now and then we have heard of the cruel fighting in the far-away Pacific, and have learned of the struggles going on between capital and labor. We know that beyond the border of our Eden men are making history by the sweat of their brows when they might better make a holiday. But we little heed these things. Here are lakes and woods, and broad daisy-starred fields and sweet-breathed meadows, and they shall endure forever.

People who think that all sensations reach us through the eye and the ear have expressed surprise that I should notice any difference, except possibly the absence of pavements, between walking in city streets and in country roads. They forget that my whole body is alive to the conditions about me. The rumble and roar of the city smites the nerves of my face, and I feel the ceaseless tramp of an unseen multitude, and the dissonant tumult frets my spirit. The grinding of heavy wagons on hard pavements and the monotonous clangor of machinery are all the more torturing to the nerves if one’s attention is not diverted by the panorama that is always present in the noisy streets to people who can see.

Some of the Joys of Country Life

HERE in the country one sees only Nature’s fair works, and one’s soul is not saddened by the cruel struggle for mere existence that goes on in the crowded city. Several times I have visited the narrow, dirty streets where the poor live, and I grow hot and indignant to think that good people should be content to live in fine houses and become strong and beautiful, while others are condemned to live in hideous, sunless tenements and grow ugly, withered and cringing. The children who crowd these grimy alleys, half clad and underfed, shrink away from your outstretched hand as if from a blow. Dear little creatures, they crouch in my heart and haunt me with a constant sense of pain! There are men and women, too, all gnarled and bent out of shape. I have felt their hard, rough hands and realized what an endless struggle their existence must be — no more than a series of scrimmages, thwarted attempts to do something. Their life seems an immense disparity between effort and opportunity. The sun and the air are God’s free gifts to all, we say; but are they so? In yonder city’s dingy alleys the sun shines not, and the air is foul. Oh, man, how dost thou forget and obstruct thy brother man, and say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” when he has none! Oh, would that men would leave the city, its splendor and its tumult and its gold, and return to wood and field and simple, honest living! Then would their children grow stately as these noble trees, and their thoughts sweet and pure as these wayside flowers.

What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more, to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes, or to clamber over a stone wall into shambling green fields that tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness!

Helen Keller On Bike, 1990
Helen Keller On Bike, 1990
Photo: The Disability History Museum

Next to a leisurely walk I enjoy a “spin” on my tandem bicycle. It is splendid to feel the wind blowing in my face and the springy motion of my iron steed. The rapid rush through the air gives me a delicious sense of strength and buoyancy, and the exercise makes my pulses dance and my heart sing for gladness.

Whenever it is possible my dog accompanies me on a walk or ride or sail. I have had many dog friends — huge, tawny mastiffs, soft-eyed spaniels, wood-wise setters and honest, homely bull terriers. At present the lord of my affections is one of these bull terriers. He has a long pedigree, a crooked tail and the drollest “phiz” in dogdom. My dog friends seem to understand my limitations perfectly and always keep close beside me when I am alone. I love their affectionate ways and the eloquent wag of their tails.

No Lack of Amusements on Rainy Days

WHEN a rainy day keeps me indoors I amuse myself after the manner of other girls. I like to knit and crochet; I read in the happy-go-lucky way I love, here and there a line; or perhaps I play a game or two of checkers or chess with a friend. I have a special board on which I play these games. The squares are cut out, so that the men stand in them firmly. The black checkers are flat and the white ones curved at the top. Each checker has a hole in the middle in which a brass knob can be placed to distinguish the king from the commons. The chessmen are of two sizes, the white being larger than the black, so that I have no trouble in following my opponent’s manoeuvres by moving my hands lightly over the board after a play. The jar made by shifting the men from one hole to another tells me when it is my turn.

Frequently when I happen to be all alone and in an idle mood I play a game of solitaire, of which I am very fond. I use playing-cards marked in the upper right-hand corner with braille symbols which indicate the value of the card. If there are children around, nothing pleases me so much as to frolic with them. I find even the smallest child excellent company, and I am glad to say that children usually like me. They lead me about and show me the things they are interested in. Of course the little ones cannot spell on their fingers; but I manage to read their lips. If I do not succeed, they resort to dumb show. Sometimes I make a mistake and do the wrong thing. Then a burst of childish laughter greets my blunder, and the pantomime begins all over again. I often tell them stories or teach them a game, and the winged hours depart and leave us good and happy.

Museums and art-stores are also sources of pleasure and inspiration. Doubtless it will seem strange to many, that the hand unaided by sight can feel in the cold marble action, sentiment, beauty; and yet it is true that I derive genuine pleasure from touching great works of art. As my finger-tips trace line and curve they discover the thought or emotion which the artist has portrayed. I can feel in the faces of gods and heroes hate, courage and love, just as I can detect these sentiments in living faces I am permitted to touch. I feel in Diana’s posture the grace and freedom of the forest and the spirit that tames the mountain lion and subdues the fiercest passions. My soul delights in the repose and gracious curves of the Venus; and in Barré’s bronzes the secrets of the jungle are revealed to me.

A medallion of Homer hangs on the wall of my little study, conveniently low, so that I can easily reach it and touch the beautiful, sad face with loving reverence. How well I know each line in that majestic brow — tracks of life — and bitter evidences of struggle and sorrow; those sightless eyes seeking, even in the cold plaster, for the light and the blue skies of his beloved Hellas, but seeking in vain; that beautiful mouth, firm and true, and tender. It is the face of a poet, and of a man acquainted with sorrow. Ah, how well I understand his deprivation — the perpetual night in which he dwelt.

“O dark, dark, dark amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day!”

In imagination I can hear Homer singing, as with unsteady, hesitating steps he gropes his way from camp to camp — singing of life, of love, of war, of the splendid achievements of a noble race. It was a wonderful, glorious song, and it won the blind poet an immortal crown, the admiration of all ages.

I sometimes wonder if the hand is not more sensitive to the beauties of sculpture than the eye. I should think the wonderful rhythmical flow of lines and curves could be more subtly felt than seen. Be this as it may, I know that I can feel the heart-throbs of the ancient Greeks in their marble gods and goddesses.

A Good Play is a Real Treat

ANOTHER pleasure, which comes more rarely than the others, is going to the theatre. I enjoy having a play described to me while it is being acted on the stage far more than reading it, because then it seems as if I were living in the midst of stirring events. It has been my privilege to meet a few great actors and actresses who have the power of so bewitching you that you forget time and place and live again in the romantic past. I have been permitted to touch the face and costume of Miss Ellen Terry as she impersonated our ideal of a queen; and there was about her that divinity that hedges sublimest woe. Beside her stood Sir Henry Irving, wearing the symbols of kingship; and there was majesty of intellect in his every gesture and attitude and the royalty that subdues and overcomes in every line of his sensitive face. In the king’s face which he wore as a mask there was a remoteness of grief which I shall never forget.

I also know Mr. Jefferson. I am proud to count him among my friends and go to see him whenever I happen to be where he is acting. The first time I saw him act was while at school in New York. He played “Rip Van Winkle.” I had often read the story before, but I had never felt the charm of Rip’s slow, quaint, kind ways as I did in the play. Mr. Jefferson’s beautiful, pathetic representation quite carried me away with delight. I have a picture of old Rip in my fingers which I shall never forget. After the play Miss Sullivan took me to see him behind the scenes, and I felt of his curious garb and his flowing hair and beard. Mr. Jefferson let me touch his face so that I could imagine how he looked on waking from that strange sleep of twenty years, and he showed me how poor old Rip staggered to his feet. I have also seen him in “The Rivals.” Once while I was calling on him in Boston he acted the most striking parts of “The Rivals” for me. The reception-room where we sat served for a stage. He and his son seated themselves at the big table, and Bob Acres wrote his challenge. I followed all his movements with my hands and caught the drollery of his blunders and gestures in a way that would have been impossible had it all been spelled to me. Then they rose to fight the duel, and I followed the swift thrusts and parries of the swords and the waverings of poor Bob as his courage oozed out at his finger-ends. Then the great actor gave his coat a hitch and his mouth a twitch, and in an instant I was in the village of Falling Water and felt Schneider’s shaggy head against my knee. Mr. Jefferson recited the best dialogues of “Rip Van Winkle,” in which the tear came close upon the smile. He asked me to indicate as far as I could the gestures and action that should go with the lines. Of course, I have no sense whatever of dramatic action and could make only random guesses; but with masterful art he suited the action to the word. The sigh of Rip as he murmurs, “Is a man so soon forgotten when he is gone?” the dismay with which he searches for dog and gun after his long sleep, and the comical irresolution with which he signs his contract with Derrick, or rather, has it signed for him — all these seemed to be right out of life itself; that is, the ideal life, where things happen as we think they should.

Going to the Theatre for the First Time

I REMEMBER well the first time I went to the theatre. It was twelve years ago. Elsie Leslie, the little actress, was in Boston, and Miss Sullivan took me to see her in “The Prince and the Pauper.” I shall never forget the ripple of alternating joy and woe that ran through that beautiful little play, or the wonderful child who acted it. After the play I was permitted to go behind the scenes and meet her in her royal costume. It would have been hard to find a lovelier or more lovable child than Elsie, as she stood with a cloud of golden hair floating over her shoulders, smiling brightly, showing no signs of shyness or fatigue, though she had been facing an immense audience. I was only just learning to speak, and had previously repeated her name until I could say it perfectly. Imagine my delight when she understood the few words I spoke to her!

Is it not true, then, that my life with all its limitations touches at many points the rich, exuberant life of the World Beautiful? Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.

Would that I could enrich this sketch with the names of all those who have ministered to my happiness! Some of them would be found written in our literature and dear to the hearts of many, while others would be wholly unknown to most of my readers. But their personal influence, though it escapes fame, shall live immortal in the lives that have been sweetened and ennobled by it.

The beneficent kindness of my friends has touched my life “like a summer wind laden with a thousand invisible seeds, that, dropping everywhere, spring up into flowers and fruit.” All that I hold sweetest, all that I hold most precious, I owe to my friends. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges and made it possible for me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivations.

Those are red-letter days in our lives when we meet, around the corner of the street of life, people who thrill us like a fine poem, people whose hand-shake is brimful of unspoken sympathy, and whose sweet, rich natures impart to our eager, impatient spirits a wonderful restfulness which, in its essence, is divine. The perplexities, irritations and worries that have absorbed us pass like unpleasant dreams, and we wake to see with new eyes and hear with new ears the beauty and harmony of God’s real world. The solemn nothings that fill our every-day life blossom suddenly into bright possibilities. In a word, while they are near us we feel that all is well. Perhaps we never saw them before, and they may never cross our life’s path again; but the influence of their calm, mellow natures is a libation poured upon our discontent, and we feel its healing touch, as the ocean feels the mountain stream freshening its brine.

Phillips Brooks and the Key to Heaven

I COUNT it one of the sweetest privileges of my life to I have known and conversed with many men of genius. Only those who knew Bishop Brooks can appreciate the joy his friendship was to those who possessed it. As a child, I loved to sit on his knee and clasp his great hand with one of mine, while Miss Sullivan spelled into the other his beautiful words about God and the spiritual world. I heard him with a child’s wonder and delight. My spirit could not reach up to his, but he gave me a real sense of joy in life, and I never left him without carrying away a fine thought that grew in beauty and depth of meaning as I grew. Once, when I was puzzled to know why there were so many religions, he said: “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.” His life was a happy illustration of this truth. In his noble soul love and widest knowledge were blended with faith that had become insight.

Bishop Brooks taught me no special creed or dogma; but he impressed upon my mind two great ideas — the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and made me feel that these truths underlie all creeds and forms of worship. God is love, God is our father, we are His children; therefore the darkest clouds will break, and though right be worsted, wrong shall not triumph. I am too happy in this world to think much about the future except to remember that I have cherished friends awaiting me there in God’s beautiful Somewhere. In spite of the lapse of years, they seem so close to me that I should not think it strange if at any moment they should clasp my hand and speak words of endearment as they used to before they went away. Since Bishop Brooks died I have read the Bible through; also some philosophical works on religion, among them Swedenborg’s “Heaven and Hell” and Drummond’s “Ascent of Man,” and I have found no creed or system more soul-satisfying than Bishop Brooks’s creed of love. I knew Mr. Henry Drummond, too, and the memory of his strong, warm hand-clasp is like a benediction. He was the most charming and delightful of companions. He knew so much, he had conquered so much, he had seen life from so many sides that it was impossible to feel dull or despairing in his presence.

Three Famous Men — Three Good Friends

DR. EDWARD EVERETT HALE is one of my very oldest friends. I have known him since I was eight, and any love for him has increased with my years. His wise, tender sympathy has been the support of Miss Sullivan and me in times of trial and sorrow, and his strong hand has helped us over many rough places; and what he has done for us he has done for thousands of those who have difficult tasks to accomplish. He has filled the old skins of dogma with the new wine of love, and shown men what it is to believe, live and be free. What he has taught we have seen beautifully expressed in his own life — love of country, kindness to the least of his brethren, and a sincere desire to live upward and onward. He has been an inspirer of men, and a mighty doer of the Word, the friend of all his race — God bless him!

Miss Helen Keller and Dr. A. Graham Bell (1902)
Miss Helen Keller and Dr. A. Graham Bell (1902)
Photo: Public Domain

I have already written of my first meeting with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. Since then I have spent many happy days with him at Washington and at his beautiful home in the heart of Cape Breton Island, near Baddeck, the village made famous by Charles Dudley Warner’s book. In Doctor Bell’s laboratory or in the fields on the shore of the Great Bras d’Or, I have spent many delightful hours listening to what he had to tell me about his experiments, and helping him fly kites by means of which he expects to discover the laws that shall govern the future airship. Doctor Bell is conversant in many fields of science and has the art of making every subject he touches interesting, even the most abstruse theories. He makes you feel that if you only had a little more time, you, too, might be an inventor. He has a humorous and poetic side, too, which is charming; and his dominating passion is his love for children. He is never quite so happy as when he has a little deaf child in his arms. His labors in behalf of the deaf will live on and bless generations of children yet to come; and we love him alike for what he himself has achieved and what he has evoked from others.

I remember well the first time I saw Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. He had invited Miss Sullivan and me to call on him one Sunday afternoon. It was early in the spring, just after I had learned to speak. We were shown at once to his library where we found him seated in a big armchair by a cheerful open fire which glowed and crackled on the hearth, thinking, he said, of other days. “And listening to the murmur of the river Charles,” I suggested. “Yes,” he replied, “the Charles has many dear associations for me.” There was an odor of print and leather in the room which told me that it was full of books, and I stretched out my hand instinctively to find them. My fingers lighted upon a beautiful volume of Tennyson’s poems, and when Miss Sullivan told me what it was I began to recite

“Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O sea!”

But I stopped suddenly. I felt tears on my hand. I had made my beloved poet weep, and I was greatly distressed. He made me sit in his armchair while he brought different objects of interest for me to examine, and at his request I recited “The Chambered Nautilus,” which was then my favorite poem. After that I saw Doctor Holmes many times and learned to love him. His mind was like a rich orchard, the ripe fruit of which dropped continually as he talked. Every remark had a spicy flavor of its own, and his conversation quickened my thoughts on many subjects.

One beautiful summer day, not long after my meeting with Doctor Holmes, Miss Sullivan and I visited Mr. Whittier in his quiet home on the Merrimac. His gentle courtesy and quaint speech won my heart. He had a book of his poems in raised print from which I read “In School Days.” He was delighted that I could pronounce the words so well, and said that he had no difficulty in understanding me. Then I asked many questions about the poem and read his answers by placing my fingers on his lips. He said he was the little boy in the poem, and that the girl’s name was Sally, and more which I have forgotten. I also recited “Laus Deo,” and as I spoke the concluding verses he placed in my hands a statue of a slave from whose crouching figure the fetters were falling, even as they fell from Peter’s limbs when the angel led him forth out of prison. Afterward we went into his study, and he wrote his autograph for my teacher and expressed his admiration of her work, saying to me, “She is your spiritual liberator.” Then he led me to the gate and kissed me tenderly on my forehead. I promised to visit him again; but he died before the promise was fulfilled.

Meetings with Many Literary Men

DURING the two years I spent in New York I had many opportunities to talk with distinguished people whose names I had often heard, but whom I had never expected to meet. Most of them I met first in the house of my good friend, Mr. Laurence Hutton. It was a great privilege to visit him and dear Mrs. Hutton in their lovely home, and see their library and read the beautiful sentiments and bright thoughts gifted friends had written for them. Mr. Hutton introduced me to many of his literary friends, greatest of whom are Mr. William Dean Howells and Mark Twain. I have also met Mr. Richard Watson Gilder and Mr. Edmund Clarence Stedman. They were all gentle and sympathetic, and I felt the charm of their manner as much as I had felt the brilliancy of their essays and poems. I knew Mr. Charles Dudley Warner, and once he brought to see me the dear poet of the woodlands — Mr. John Burroughs. I could not keep pace with all these literary folk as they glanced from subject to subject and entered into deep dispute, or made conversation sparkle with witticisms. But they spoke many gracious words to me, which I keep among my heart’s choicest treasures. Mr. Gilder told me about his moonlight journeys across the vast desert to the Pyramids, and I read from Mark Twain’s lips one or two of his good stories. He has his own way of thinking, saying and doing everything. I feel the twinkle of his eye in his hand-shake. Even while he utters his cynical wisdom in an indescribably droll voice, he makes you feel that his heart is a tender Iliad of human sympathy.

Women Whose Friendship is Cherished

THERE are a host of other lovely people I met in I New York: Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge, editor of “St. Nicholas,” and Mrs. Riggs (Kate Douglas Wiggin), the sweet author of “Pansy.” I received from them gifts that have the sweet concurrence of the heart, books containing their own thoughts, soul-illumined letters and photographs that I love to have described again and again. But there is not space to mention all my friends, and indeed there are things about them hidden behind the wings of cherubim, things too sacred to set forth in cold print. It is with hesitancy that I speak even of Mrs. Laurence Hutton, who has oftenest advised and helped me in my progress through college. I have one friend to whom I am deeply indebted. He is known for the powerful hand with which he guides vast enterprises, and his wonderful abilities have gained for him the respect of all. Modesty crowns his achievements; he goes about doing good, silent and unseen. Again I touch upon the circle of honored names I must not mention; but I would fain acknowledge the generosity and affectionate interest with which he is making it easier for me to overcome the difficulties of college.

I have many far-off friends whom I have never seen. Indeed, they are so many that I have often been unable to reply to their letters; but I wish to say here that I am always grateful for their kind words, however insufficiently I acknowledge them. A friendly letter or a hearty hand-shake gives me genuine pleasure. It may be only the clinging touch of a child’s hand, but there is as much potential sunshine in it for me as there is in a loving glance for others. I have often been asked, “Do people not bore you?” I do not understand what that means. I suppose their calls would occasionally seem inopportune if I thought of it; but I never think of it. The touch of a hand may seem an impertinence, while that of another is like a benediction. I have met people so empty of joy that when I clasped their frosty finger-tips it seemed as if I were shaking hands with a northeast storm. Others there are whose fingers have sunbeams in them; their grasp warms my heart.

“I Am as Happy as You Are”

MY STORY is now told, and I hope, kind reader, you are convinced how little able I was to write it. I live in my own way the life that you do, and I am as happy as you are. The outward circumstances of our lives are but the shell of things. My life is pervaded by love as a cloud by light. Deafness is a barrier against intrusion, and blindness makes us oblivious to much that is ugly and revolting in the world. In the midst of unpleasant things I move as one who wears an invisible cap.

Sometimes, it is true, a sense of isolation infolds me like a cold, white mist as I sit alone and wait at Life’s shut gate. Beyond there is light and music and sweet companionship; but I may not enter. Fate, silent, pitiless, inexorable, bars the way. Fain would I question his imperious decree; for my heart is still undisciplined and passionate; but my tongue will not utter the bitter, futile words that rise to my lips, and they fall back into my heart like unshed tears. Silence sits immense upon my soul. Then comes Hope with sweet, sad smile and whispers, “There is joy in self-forgetfulness.” So I try to make the light in others’ eyes my sun, the music in others’ ears my symphony, the smile on others’ lips my happiness.


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Source: Keller, Helen, “The Story of My Life Series: Part 6,”  The Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1902. Disability History Museum, (May 3, 2014).

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Keller, H. (1902). Helen Keller’s own story of her life. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from