A selection from
THE STORY OF MY LIFE
Narrated by Bernadette Dunne
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running time is 12 minutes
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The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on
which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am
filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts
between the two lives which it connects. It was the third of
March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old.
On the afternoon of that eventful day, I stood on the porch,
dumb, expectant. I guessed vaguely from my mother's signs and
from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual
was about to happen, so I went to the door and waited on the
steps. The afternoon sun penetrated the mass of honeysuckle that
covered the porch, and fell on my upturned face. My fingers
lingered almost unconsciously on the familiar leaves and blossoms
which had just come forth to greet the sweet southern spring. I
did not know what the future held of marvel or surprise for me.
Anger and bitterness had preyed upon me continually for weeks and
a deep languor had succeeded this passionate struggle.
Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a
tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense
and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and
sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to
happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I
was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing
how near the harbour was. "Light! give me light!" was the
wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in
that very hour.
I felt approaching footsteps, I stretched out my hand as I
supposed to my mother. Some one took it, and I was caught up and
held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things
to me, and, more than all things else, to love me.
The morning after my teacher came she led me into her room and
gave me a doll. The little blind children at the Perkins
Institution had sent it and Laura Bridgman had dressed it; but I
did not know this until afterward. When I had played with it a
little while, Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word
"d-o-l-l." I was at once interested in this finger play and tried
to imitate it. When I finally succeeded in making the letters
correctly I was flushed with childish pleasure and pride. Running
downstairs to my mother I held up my hand and made the letters
for doll. I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that
words existed; I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like
imitation. In the days that followed I learned to spell in this
uncomprehending way a great many words, among them pin, hat, cup
and a few verbs like sit, stand and walk. But my teacher had been
with me several weeks before I understood that everything has a
One day, while I was playing with my new doll, Miss Sullivan put
my big rag doll into my lap also, spelled "d-o-l-l" and tried to
make me understand that "d-o-l-l" applied to both. Earlier in the
day we had had a tussle over the words "m-u-g" and "w-a-t-e-r."
Miss Sullivan had tried to impress it upon me that "m-u-g" is mug
and that "w-a-t-e-r" is water, but I persisted in confounding the
two. In despair she had dropped the subject for the time, only to
renew it at the first opportunity. I became impatient at her
repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the
floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the
broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my
passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark
world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment or
tenderness. I felt my teacher sweep the fragments to one side of
the hearth, and I had a sense of satisfaction that the cause of
my discomfort was removed. She brought me my hat, and I knew I
was going out into the warm sunshine. This thought, if a wordless
sensation may be called a thought, made me hop and skip with
We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the
fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one
was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout.
As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the
other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still,
my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers.
Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something
forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery
of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r"
meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.
That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set
it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that
could in time be swept away.
I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and
each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the
house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life.
That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight
that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I
had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces.
I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with
tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I
felt repentance and sorrow.
I learned a great many new words that day. I do not remember what
they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, teacher
were among them—words that were to make the world blossom for
me, "like Aaron's rod, with flowers." It would have been
difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my crib
at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had
brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.
I recall many incidents of the summer of 1887 that followed my
soul's sudden awakening. I did nothing but explore with my hands
and learn the name of every object that I touched; and the more I
handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous
and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the
When the time of daisies and buttercups came Miss Sullivan took
me by the hand across the fields, where men were preparing the
earth for the seed, to the banks of the Tennessee River, and
there, sitting on the warm grass, I had my first lessons in the
beneficence of nature. I learned how the sun and the rain make to
grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to the sight
and good for food, how birds build their nests and live and
thrive from land to land, how the squirrel, the deer, the lion
and every other creature finds food and shelter. As my knowledge
of things grew I felt more and more the delight of the world I
was in. Long before I learned to do a sum in arithmetic or
describe the shape of the earth, Miss Sullivan had taught me to
find beauty in the fragrant woods, in every blade of grass, and
in the curves and dimples of my baby sister's hand. She linked my
earliest thoughts with nature, and made me feel that "birds and
flowers and I were happy peers."
But about this time I had an experience which taught me that
nature is not always kind. One day my teacher and I were
returning from a long ramble. The morning had been fine, but it
was growing warm and sultry when at last we turned our faces
homeward. Two or three times we stopped to rest under a tree by
the wayside. Our last halt was under a wild cherry tree a short
distance from the house. The shade was grateful, and the tree was
so easy to climb that with my teacher's assistance I was able to
scramble to a seat in the branches. It was so cool up in the tree
that Miss Sullivan proposed that we have our luncheon there. I
promised to keep still while she went to the house to fetch it.
Suddenly a change passed over the tree. All the sun's warmth left
the air. I knew the sky was black, because all the heat, which
meant light to me, had died out of the atmosphere. A strange
odour came up from the earth. I knew it, it was the odour that
always precedes a thunderstorm, and a nameless fear clutched at
my heart. I felt absolutely alone, cut off from my friends and
the firm earth. The immense, the unknown, enfolded me. I remained
still and expectant; a chilling terror crept over me. I longed
for my teacher's return; but above all things I wanted to get
down from that tree.
There was a moment of sinister silence, then a multitudinous
stirring of the leaves. A shiver ran through the tree, and the
wind sent forth a blast that would have knocked me off had I not
clung to the branch with might and main. The tree swayed and
strained. The small twigs snapped and fell about me in showers. A
wild impulse to jump seized me, but terror held me fast. I
crouched down in the fork of the tree. The branches lashed about
me. I felt the intermittent jarring that came now and then, as if
something heavy had fallen and the shock had traveled up till it
reached the limb I sat on. It worked my suspense up to the
highest point, and just as I was thinking the tree and I should
fall together, my teacher seized my hand and helped me down. I
clung to her, trembling with joy to feel the earth under my feet
once more. I had learned a new lesson—that nature "wages open
war against her children, and under softest touch hides
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