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Silent Signs

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“People do not like to think,” she said. “If one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant.”

Also among her keen insights:

“The highest result of education is tolerance.”

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”

And perhaps her best zinger: “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”

In spite of the fact that she could neither see nor hear, her vision was remarkably precise.

Had she had not finally grasped the meaning of a sign her teacher repeatedly gave her, Helen
Keller might never have seen her way to become much of anything except the object of great pity.

Most people know her story. Born in Tuscumbia, Ala., in 1880, she was left both blind and deaf following a serious illness when she was 18 months old. She stumbled in silence and darkness—a wild, unruly child—until she was almost 7 years old. That’s when Anne Mansfield Sullivan came into her life as her teacher.

Sullivan began spelling letters into the palm of Helen’s hand, hoping to help her connect objects with letters and then words. Though Helen could mimic the letters, she had no idea what she was doing or that the letters formed words that represented things, people and ideas.

Then one day at an outdoor pump, Sullivan put one of Helen’s hands under the running water. Into her other hand, she spelled “w-a-t-e-r,” first very slowly, then more quickly.

All of a sudden, the signs had meanings. That cool, wet something flowing on her hand was water! Helen quickly touched other objects and demanded from her teacher to know what they were.

By that evening, she had learned 30 words. She quickly mastered the alphabet and learned to read and write. When she was only 10 years old, she declared that she wanted to learn to speak after she somehow found out about a young girl in Norway, also blind and deaf, who had done so.

After graduating cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1904, she spent her life advocating for civil rights, human dignity, women’s issues, world peace and people with disabilities.

Easily distracted by the sights, sounds, smells and other sensations of everyday life, the average young child might not notice the delicate touch of fingertips in her small palm. But that sign made all the difference to Helen Keller.

Although they had bold words from the prophets and a bright star in the sky, King Herod, the chief priests and scribes failed to recognize God’s signs announcing salvation. The most unlikely people, some Gentile astrologers, saw the star, followed it in faith and worshiped the baby they found.

In a season marked by bright lights and blaring music, we might expect a similar, spectacular sign from God—another shining star, or maybe a burning bush or parting sea. Perhaps we would do better to remember Elijah, who found God not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the sheer silence.

Sometimes the signs that reveal the divine plan make no sound at all. Instead, “they must be felt with the heart.”

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.