Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880. For her first year and a half, she was like any other child. However, at nineteen months, she became ill with “brain fever,” which may have been scarlet fever or meningitis. Helen survived the serious illness, but was left blind and deaf. She described her early years as filled with nothing except “the instinct to eat and drink and sleep.” Her days were “a blank without past, present, or future, without hope or anticipation, without interest or joy.”
She described her contact with Anne Mansfield Sullivan as a transition from “nothingness to human life.” Anne arrived at their Alabama home in March of 1887 and became Helen’s personal tutor. Helen described her realization that the sign Anne was creating on her palm represented water as her first revelation. “It was as if I had come back to life after being dead!”
Helen eventually attended the Perkins School in Boston. It was there that she was introduced to John Hitz, whom she befriended until his death sixteen years later. John brought the spiritual writings of an Eighteenth Century Swedish scientist and seer, Emanuel Swedenborg, to Helen’s attention when he gave her a copy of the book, Heaven and Hell.
Even though Helen’s father was a deacon in the Presbyterian church and her mother an Episcopalian, Helen was baptized but received no special religious training. She described Swedenborg’s book as a second revelation.
“My heart gave a joyous bound,” she said. “Here was a faith that emphasized what I felt so keenly—the separateness between soul and body, between the realm I could picture as a whole, and the chaos of fragmentary things and irrational contingencies that my limited senses met at every turn.” She credited Swedenborg with giving her a faith that turned her darkness into light. “I believe in the immortality of the soul because I have within me immortal longings. I believe that the state we enter after death is wrought of our own motives, thoughts, and deeds.”
Helen devoted her life to service, not only helping those confronted with blindness or deafness, but working to end ignorance, racism and poverty. She supported the right of workers to strike and women to vote, and was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Harvard.
She saw this new type of belief, not as a matter of doctrine, but as a loving way to understand the world. In 1928, she addressed the national meeting of Swedenborgians in Washington, DC. Her vision of Christianity was universal and all-encompassing. She saw that Swedenborgian ideals fostered true freedom and placed humanity above party, country and race. She said, “I believe that life is given us so that we may grow in love, and I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of a flower-the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence.”
Reference: Light in My Darkness, Helen Keller, 1927.