Teacher

17 Dec

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“…It is easier for the credulous to say, ‘She is a miracle, and her teacher is another miracle,’ and for the unbelievers to declare, ‘Such things cannot be; we are being imposed upon,’ than to make a conscious study of the principles involved in her education. I therefore, ask you to free your minds from preconceived notions and theories regarding this case, and give it the thought and study which it deserves…While it is unsafe to predict what Helen’s future will be, I know she is destined to be the instrument of great good in the world, not only by drawing forth the sympathies, and putting into exercise the kind emotions of others, but by teaching them how great things may be achieved under the worst difficulties, and how pure and sweet and joyous may be existence under the darkest cloud… So we see, pathetic as Helen’s life must always seem to those who enjoy the blessings of sight and hearing, that it is yet full of brightness and cheer and courage and hope.”

~Annie Sullivan
(Member)
Speech to The American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf
Chautauqua, NY, 1894
Age 28

***

First read in the can and two more rehearsals end-of-the month, before we start slamming into staging hard-core.

…Off book by first rehearsal 13 days from now, the time of which to do this, carved out of a zillion article and archive searches and exercises in finger-spelling, book-reading and even a little touch-n-go on braille.

Research, research, research.

3 Internet Archive Databases

5 Documentaries

5 Academic Theses & Research Papers

3 Books

A curriculum plan for Comprehensive Training for Deaf-Blind Persons, from the U.S. Dept of Education.

…Pages and pages of archived handwritten letters.

…As well as notes and resources from,The National Federation of the Blind, Perkins School for the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, and
Deaf-Blind Service Center of Seattle.

…So far.

I’ve 247 pages of handwritten, highlighted, pasted, charted, Braille-dotted, hand-graphed notations and quotes. Everyone from Inventors, Actors and Presidents…Educators, Historians and Scientists, weighing in on the proceedings, and all to sort and put in proper order so I can follow the through-line from Irish Potato Famine, to being laid to rest in the National Cathedral. From first day of school at age 14, to Honorary Doctorate of Letters at 65. From 20 years-old, fresh off a train, with nowhere else to go, to: a “miracle worker.”

…Thankfully, Gibson did his homework too, and much of the script is line-by-line fact…from letters written now sitting in archives, and autobiographies, and intimate remembrances from Helen of her Teacher, now long out of print. (Thank you Ebay!)

The more I dig in, the more brilliant I find them both, as academics, as politicians, as lobbyists, as humanitarians, as individuals, as women. To know how far they will reach in their life-span and still keep the story simple and in-the-moment almost seems impossible, in hindsight. The entirety of their relationship in the script takes place across only one month of time. The first month of a 50-year companionship, which as deep as I’m in it now, is easily the greatest love story of total devotion I have ever heard:

“…My work occupies my mind, heart and body….I feel in every heartbeat that I belong to Helen, and it awes me when I think of it — this giving of one’s life that another may live…It is a privilege to love and minister to such a rare spirit. It is not in the nature of man to love so entirely and dependently as Helen. She does not merely absorb what I give, she returns my love with interest.”

***

…Yet with all this info…all the working, all the finger-spelling exercises to get up to speed and precision…all the research on how affected and incapacitated her eyes were, how they reacted under strain of hours at study, how constantly undereducated and ill prepared she felt for her task, how to tame the physical beast without breaking the child’s spirit, and the depth of writers cramp in her hand from spelling ceaselessly without end. Plus the politics in her relationship with every member of the household…which her correspondence to mentors and friends told, throughout. Every word of her process from day one with Helen…the drag-out fights and wild-animal explosions of temper…all of it, is cramming into my fingers and head as quickly as I can manage it. With the same amount of eagerness Helen did, once she first learned the aspect of a word being a thing, opening communication with the outside world.

…It’s good, but exhausting, tracing Annie’s steps. Which is as it should be. She warrants the work. She’s done enough to have earned a rest on paper now for others to pick up and pass the torch.

Perspective being what it is, however, certainly doesn’t help keep the humility I’ve got to remember is key. The Annie and Helen of one-month, have no idea in the least what is to become of their lives…they are living from beat-to-beat in an all-out war of wills. Educating Helen required total immersive, physical, mental and psychological exhaustion, day and night, on the part of her Teacher, and instinctual animalized destruction of terror on behalf the student. And the first word which ends the business of the play, was only the beginning of a long, long road to enlighten a newly born being on what it is to be human.

An awesome thought.

And a hell of an education while I study it.

“All I have to teach you is–one word. Everything.”

***

“…What a marvelous thing is language! How seldom we give it a thought! Yet it is one of the most amazing facts in life. By means of the spoken or written word thought leaps over the barrier that separates mind from mind, yet this miracle excites no comment. With simple little words we open our hearts to each other. To think and speak, to have ideas and write them, to make plain to others, to talk with strangers, to learn from acquaintances and the newspapers what our contemporaries are doing, to continue to communicate with the dead through the printed word, to keep their memories alive — surly this is the marvel of existence.”
~ Annie Sullivan

***

~D

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