17 Nos­tal­gic Sto­ries From the Ar­chives

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Ihave of­ten thought it would be a bless­ing if each hu­man be­ing were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at some time dur­ing his early adult life. Dark­ness would make him more ap­pre­cia­tive of sight; si­lence would teach him the joys of sound. Now and then, I have tested my see­ing friends to dis­cover what they see.

Re­cently I asked a friend, who had just re­turned from a long walk in the woods, what she had ob­served. “Noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar,” she replied. How was it pos­si­ble, I asked my­self, 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 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.

At times my heart cries out with long­ing to see all these things. If I can get so much plea­sure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be re­vealed by sight? And I have imag­ined what I should most like to see if I were given the use of my eyes, say, for just three days.

I should di­vide the pe­riod into three

parts. On the first day, I should want to see the peo­ple whose kind­ness and com­pan­ion­ship have made my life worth liv­ing.

I do not know what it is to see into the heart of a friend through that ‘win­dow of the soul’, the eye. I can only ‘see’ through my fin­ger­tips the out­line of a face. I can de­tect laugh­ter, sor­row and many other ob­vi­ous emo­tions. I know my friends from the feel of their faces.

How much eas­ier, how much more sat­is­fy­ing it is for you who can see to grasp quickly the es­sen­tial qual­i­ties of an­other per­son by watch­ing the sub­tleties of ex­pres­sion, that quiver of a mus­cle, the flut­ter of a hand. But does it ever oc­cur to you to use your sight to see into the in­ner na­ture of a friend? Do not most of you see­ing peo­ple grasp ca­su­ally the out­ward fea­tures of a face and let it go at that?

For in­stance, can you de­scribe ­ac­cu­rately the faces of five good friends? As an ex­per­i­ment, I have ques­tioned hus­bands about the colour of the wives’ eyes, and of­ten they ex­press em­bar­rassed con­fu­sion and ad­mit that they do not know.

Oh, the things I should see if I had the power of sight for just three days!


ONE. I should call to me all my dear friends and look long into their faces, im­print­ing upon my mind the out­ward ev­i­dence of the beauty that is within them. I should let my eyes rest,

too, on the face of a baby, so that I could catch a vi­sion of the ea­ger, in­no­cent beauty which pre­cedes the in­di­vid­ual’s con­scious­ness of the con­flicts which life de­vel­ops.

I should like to see the books which have been read to me, and which have re­vealed to me the deep­est chan­nels of hu­man life. And I should like to look into the loyal, trust­ing eyes of my dogs, the lit­tle Scot­tie and the stal­wart Great Dane.

In the af­ter­noon I should take a long walk in the woods and in­tox­i­cate my eyes on the beau­ties of the world of na­ture. And I should pray for the glory of a colour­ful sun­set. That night, I think, I should not be able to sleep.

The next day I should arise with the dawn and see the thrilling mir­a­cle by which night is trans­formed into day. I should be­hold with awe the mag­nif­i­cent panorama of light with which the sun awak­ens the sleep­ing Earth.

This day I should de­vote to a hasty glimpse of the world, past and present. I should want to see the pageant of man’s progress, and so I should go to the mu­se­ums. There my eyes would see the con­densed his­tory of the Earth – an­i­mals and the races of men pic­tured in their na­tive en­vi­ron­ment; gi­gan­tic car­casses of di­nosaurs and

mastodons which roamed the Earth be­fore man ap­peared, with his tiny stature and pow­er­ful brain, to con­quer the an­i­mal king­dom.

My next stop would be the Mu­seum of Art. I know well through my hands the sculp­tured gods and god­desses of the an­cient Nile-land. I have felt copies of Parthenon friezes and I have sensed the rhyth­mic beauty of charg­ing Athe­nian war­riors. The gnarled, bearded fea­tures of Homer are dear to me, for he, too, knew blind­ness.

SO ON THIS, my sec­ond day, I should try to probe into the soul of man through his art. The things I knew through touch I should now see. More splen­did still, the whole mag­nif­i­cent world of paint­ing would be opened to me.

I should be able to get only a su­per­fi­cial im­pres­sion. Artists tell me that for a deep and true ap­pre­ci­a­tion of art one must ed­u­cate the eye. One must learn through ex­pe­ri­ence to weigh the mer­its of line, of com­po­si­tion, of form and colour.

If I had eyes, how hap­pily would I em­bark on so fas­ci­nat­ing a study!

The evening of my sec­ond day ­I should spend at a the­atre or at the movies. How I should like to see the fas­ci­nat­ing fig­ure of Ham­let, or the

gusty Fal­staff amid colour­ful El­iz­a­bethan trap­pings! I can­not en­joy the beauty of rhyth­mic move­ment ex­cept in a sphere re­stricted to the touch of my hands. I can vi­sion only dimly the grace of a Pavlova, although I know some­thing of the de­light of rhythm. For of­ten I can sense the beat of mu­sic as it vi­brates through the floor.

I can well imag­ine that ca­denced mo­tion must be one of the most pleas­ing sights in the world. I have been able to gather some­thing of this by trac­ing with my fin­gers the lines in sculp­tured mar­ble; if this static grace can be so lovely, how much more acute must be the thrill of see­ing grace in mo­tion.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, I should again greet the dawn, anx­ious to dis­cover new de­lights, new rev­e­la­tions of beauty. To­day, this third day, I shall spend in the worka­day world, amid the haunts of men go­ing about the busi­ness of life.

The city be­comes my des­ti­na­tion. First, I stand at a busy cor­ner, merely look­ing at peo­ple, try­ing by sight of them to un­der­stand some­thing of their daily lives. I see smiles, and I am happy. I see se­ri­ous de­ter­mi­na­tion, and I am proud. I see suf­fer­ing, and I am com­pas­sion­ate. I stroll down Fifth Av­enue in New York City. I throw my

eyes out of fo­cus, so that I see no par­tic­u­lar ob­ject but only a seething kalei­do­scope of colour. I am cer­tain that the colours of women’s dresses mov­ing in a throng must be a gor­geous spec­ta­cle of which I should never tire. But per­haps if I had sight I should be like most other women – too in­ter­ested in styles to give much at­ten­tion to the splen­dour of colour in the mass.

From Fifth Av­enue I make a tour of the city – to the slums, to fac­to­ries, to parks where chil­dren play. I take a stay-at-home trip abroad by vis­it­ing the for­eign quar­ters. Al­ways my eyes are open wide to all the sights of both hap­pi­ness and mis­ery so that I may probe deep and add to my un­der­stand­ing of how peo­ple work and live.

MY THIRD DAY OF SIGHT is draw­ing to an end. Per­haps there are many se­ri­ous pur­suits to which I should de­vote the few re­main­ing hours, but I am afraid that on the evening of that last day I should again run away to the the­atre, to a hi­lar­i­ously funny play, so that I might ap­pre­ci­ate the over­tones of com­edy in the hu­man spirit.

At mid­night per­ma­nent night would close in on me again. Nat­u­rally in those three short days I should not

“My eyes are open wide to all the sights of both hap­pi­ness and mis­ery so that I may probe deep”

have seen all I wanted to see. Only when dark­ness had again de­scended upon me should I re­alise how much I had left un­seen.

Per­haps this short out­line does not agree with the pro­gramme you might set for your­self if you knew that you were about to be stricken blind. I am, how­ever, sure that if you faced that fate you would use your eyes as never be­fore.

Ev­ery­thing you saw would be­come dear to you. Your eyes would touch and em­brace every ob­ject that came within your range of vi­sion. Then, at last, you would re­ally see, and a new world of beauty would open it­self be­fore you.

I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: use your eyes as if to­mor­row you would be stricken blind. And the same method can be ap­plied to the other senses.

Hear the mu­sic of voices, the song of a bird, the mighty strains of an

or­ches­tra, as if you would be stricken deaf to­mor­row. Touch each ob­ject as if to­mor­row your tac­tile sense would fail. Smell the per­fume of flow­ers, taste with rel­ish each morsel, as if to­mor­row you could never smell and taste again.

Make the most of every sense; glory in all the facets of plea­sure and beauty which the world re­veals to you through the sev­eral means of con­tact which na­ture pro­vides. But of all the senses, I am sure that sight must be the most de­light­ful.

He­len Keller con­tracted a vir­u­lent child­hood dis­ease which re­sulted in com­plete loss of sight and hear­ing at 19 months. Through a touch al­pha­bet ‘spelled’ into her hand at age seven, Keller learned lan­guage, and then speech, and the world opened to her. She grad­u­ated from Rad­cliffe Col­lege in 1904. Keller wrote pro­lif­i­cally, trav­elled widely, lec­tured on var­i­ous top­ics, and was awarded numer­ous hon­orary de­grees from uni­ver­si­ties around the world.

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