What a YouTube Treasure!
Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan on a newsreel
demonstrating how Helen learned to speak.
Her first spoken sentence was a gem
I have been fascinated with Helen Keller's story ever since 6th grade when I read her autobiography. Which was long before I'd seen either of the Miracle Worker films. Maybe visual impairment was already on my radar because of growing up watching my grandmother deal with hers but I don't have a specific memory of that being why I picked up the autobiography.
I do remember how enthralled I became with her story of coming out of a cave-dark, chaotic and silent world ruled by fear and anger into a love-bright, word-ordered world rooted in companionship, gratitude and hope.
That book may have also been the beginning of my obsession with words and language--their meaning, etymology, grammar, origins, translation, language acquisition and so on.
Imagining that little girl unable to see or hear and having no vocabulary had me thinking at age 12 about the role words have in the creation of reality. What was a thing or an action or a thought if it had no name?
That Zen Koan I encountered much later asking if the tree falling in the forest where no ear could hear made a sound, probably had less of an impact on me after having contemplated whether things without names had any thingness at all or whether the namer and the named had a special bond or whether the namer created the thing by naming it?
Except that didn't fit the Bible story of Adam naming the animals after God created them. But still I wondered how they could have been nameless from the moment of their creation until the moment Adam named them. How could their creator not know their names? Which led to wondering whether God's name for them and Adam's had been the same one. Then there was the concern that they might have their own names for themselves...
Yes, I often turn my brain into a pretzel with thoughts like these and experience it as pleasure. Go figure.