‘There is light in every darkness’ - Helen Keller’s example for ‘Lizzy’ Myers
Five-year-old Elizabeth 'Lizzy' Myers and her parents met Pope Francis recently and she captured worldwide media attention as she stood innocently before the Pontiff.
He gave her a traditional blessing and laid his hand over her eyes as he prayed.
It is the latter act that moved millions of onlookers. You see, Myers has been dealt with one of life's most unforgiving hands she is stricken with Usher's disease, a rare and irreversible condition that leads to blindness and eventually loss of hearing.
As Myers travels and experiences the many sights, checking off her bucket list before the full onslaught of her disease, images of Helen Keller flashed to the fore.
Keller, who suffered a similar fate, went on to become one of the most magnetic, influential figures of the 20th century. University graduate, philanthropist, crusader for the handicap, author, civil rights activist long before the 1960s, and deeply spiritual, she captivated multiple generations.
This is an overview of Keller's incredible life and philosophy; what made her so special despite an overwhelmingly handicap. I present it as my personal message to Myers, her parents, and supporters.
Helen Keller (1880-1960) represents the triumph of light over darkness. Her capacity to love, to learn, to counsel and excel is one of the greatest stories ever told.
Despite having lost her sight and hearing at 19 months old, she never succumbed to anger, self-pity and distrust; neither did she second-guess God's love.
Instead, Keller embraced a philosophy that spurred her incredulous accomplishments, and long before the curtain fell on her life, she emerged as a champion of all peoples.
She once said: "Our generations are clogged in matter ..."
Keller was convinced that the ills of society are due to our obsession with materialism. She understood that global strife was the outcome of what she called "petty nationalism," and advocated unity in spirit and deeds.
She spoke of God, our creator, as a loving, compassionate agent who would never engage in sadistic forms of punishment.
"We create our own hell, our own hellish reality by separating ourselves from the light of God that is within us. It is man who projects unto God his own anger and intolerance.
"If we only change our toxic beliefs our inner light will guide, offering wisdom and comfort although our physical lens are disabled," argued Keller.
It is through her gratitude for life that she was able to experience God's guiding light.
PHILOSOPHY OF HOPE
Remarkably, Keller viewed life as merciful. She upheld a philosophy of hope and celebration. She believed in all of humanity, rejecting religious hubris and self-righteousness.
She shunned dogmatic religiosity and embraced spirituality. Everyone, she said, stands to be saved through belief in God and charity not solely Christians.
Christians, she added, cannot condemn others when they have failed to live up to the very fundamentals of their teachings.
"The idea that vast multitudes are excluded from the blessings of salvation through Jesus Christ is (now) giving way to a more generous understanding that God has other sheep who hear his voice and obey him," said Keller.
"He has provided religion of some kind everywhere and it does not matter to what race or creed people belong as long as they are faithful to their ideals of right living. The one principle to be remembered by all is that religion is to live a doctrine, not merely to believe one."
And she prophetically defended Islam when she asserted: "The history of religious thought proclaims in trumpet tones that God has never left himself without a witness."
Love was the foundation upon which she embarked on her social and political crusades. She referred to love as the building block of the universe, the absence of which will lead to sterility and death.
"It (love) is our inmost essence out of which our spiritual organism is formed, and what we perceive as love is only a sign of that substance," wrote Keller.
"Love actually keeps our faculties alive, as the atmosphere gives the senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing their sentient life."
She once cited the profound words of Emmanuel Swedenborg, "Man knows there is such a thing as love but he does not know what love is."
It is notable that Keller had always argued that man has trampled on his own potential and spark of divinity. Our ability for deliberation, to choose our free is sacrificed at the altar of naivete. For the gift of choice is paramount.
We have the innate ability to surmount the most challenging of obstacles. Like her, we can resurrect from our tomb of darkness and be exemplars for future generations.
Moved by her wisdom and authenticity, Keller was celebrated by the likes of Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and Jawaharlal Nehru as the most impressive figure in history.
Indeed, it is Keller's ability to create light from darkness - to see, hear and speak through an inner sense - and be of service to the world - that demands an honest study of this work.
Her life was a treasure trove of timeless lessons.
I pray that somehow modern medicine will soon find a cure for Myers' condition. But whatever the outcome, I encourage her, and her loved ones to remain steadfast and optimistic.
With love, faith, acceptance, and gratitude, her life, like Keller's, holds unfathomable potential.
- Dr Ashby is the author 'Anam Car: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity'. Now available as an audio book Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby