This week (June 1st) marks the 42nd anniversary of the death of Helen Keller (June 27, 1880--June 1, 1968).
The name Helen Keller has again and again proven to be one of the most recognized of our time. (It's no coincidence that I've written not one but two biographies of her.) So most of us know the story of Helen and how she was robbed of her sight and hearing as a toddler. We know that, as a child, she was wild and uncontrollable, attacking her family and gobbling her food like an animal. She was clearly a child in anguish.
But her anguish did not stem from her inability to see or hear. It was her inability to communicate which drove her nearly mad. Helen needed words like she needed oxygen, and she had none. No words to express her most basic needs, no names for the people and things in her life. Helen was hungry for words, and she was starving.
And then came Annie Sullivan. Annie gave her words and opened a path to communication for her. Helen later said, "That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free." No writer has ever said it better.
On her death in 1968, Helen was interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, next to the remains of Annie Sullivan, the woman who had unlocked her life with words.