A Story of Love and Compassion
At the turn of the 20th century there existed a small town whose major employer was a state institution. In the old days it was called an “insane asylum”. An old lady worked in the cafeteria, and had all of her adult life. She was just four months from retirement when a little eleven-year-old girl named Annie was brought in. Little Annie acted like an animal, and in those days, it was considered proper to treat one like they acted. Annie growled, and hissed, and clawed, so she was put into a cage in the dungeon. Attendants hosed her down, threw her food, and basically treated her like an animal.
This treatment was not acceptable to the little old lady in serving lunch in the cafeteria. However, she felt her influence to be best served by doing what she did best. She valued children. She appreciated their struggles to grow and mature. Thus, the little old lady took her lunch breaks down in the dungeon with Annie. She sat at some distance and quietly ate her lunch. Annie growled and hissed and clawed at her cage. The old lady remained calm and simply sat with Annie. Before leaving she would push a brownie or cookie close to the cage so Annie could reach it. Over time Annie quieted down and the old lady moved closer to the cage. Over a four-month period Annie and the old lady quietly shared lunch every day. They never spoke. They never exchanged names. Annie grew calm and clear and quiet.
The attendants of the asylum thought that the cage was working well since they did not know of the old lady’s act of appreciation. The old woman retired and little Annie was moved back upstairs. A couple of years passed before the authorities came to tell Annie the good news. She was well enough to go home. The only problem was that Annie had no home. She was an orphan. It was Annie who first suggested that she be allowed to stay on at the asylum as a trustee. She knew well the woes of being a hurt child and she could help other children. Annie’s appreciation of the condition of childhood mental illness provided her a home until she was seventeen years old. She then left to find her way in life.
Many years pass and we find ourselves gathered with throngs outside Buckingham Palace. On this day the British Royal Family would present a humanitarian award to a young woman who had inspired millions. The young woman was lead to the balcony where the Queen Mother awaited her. The young woman had to place her hands on the lips of the Queen Mother as she spoke. The young woman’s name was Helen Keller.
“Ms. Keller. Please share with us the most significant influence in your life.”
Helen Keller moved close to the microphone to pronounce her answer.
“My teacher, Ann Sullivan, was the most influential person in my life.”
The great teacher of Helen Keller had herself been a child of darkness. Ann Sullivan was the “little Annie” once banished to a dungeon in an insane asylum. Most certainly Ann Sullivan had the understanding of darkness. She appreciated the circumstances of a young deaf/mute child. She believed in little Helen Keller and spent countless hours, days, and years attempting to reach into the silent darkness and form a connection with the world. What a glad day it must have been when, at age 12, little Helen Keller put her hand under a water faucet and spoke the word “Wa... Water.” The affirmation that she had spoken the word that related to the substance formed a bridge of understanding in her young mind that continues to reach in the far most corners of the world.
We could end our story here. However we push this story forward to revisit a day in Chicago when Helen Keller was invited to speak at a small luncheon in Chicago. A group of affluent businessmen asked her to inspire them to service. They called themselves “Lions”. Helen Keller challenged these original members of the “Lions Club” to “restore vision to our planet”. Many years later we see that small social fraternity become the largest social organization on the planet, and the only non-political group to hold a voting seat at the United Nations. This is because they have made more friends with more countries than any other group in the world. Not only do the Lions provide glasses, eye care, and surgery for those who need help, they also work to restore peace on earth and health to our earth and our communities. They provide educational scholarships, and host countless community functions intended to bring people together for the love of it and the fun of it. It is impossible to calculate the impact of Helen Keller’s simple challenge in Chicago that day, and it was but one day in her life. Again, we could end our story here, but there is more. We must return to the origin of our story to complete the circle.
One day one little old lady chose to appreciate a small child. She never spoke to the child. She only sat quietly with her in a dungeon eating and sharing lunch. Her act of appreciation changed the life of Ann Sullivan, for it was this little old lady who Ann Sullivan credits for her deep empathy and understanding. One small act by a nameless little old lady continues to influence our world toward peace. Let us be always in a state of love and appreciation.