As a result of a damaging brain fever at the age of nineteen months, Helen Keller was deaf and blind, communicating only through hysterical laughter or violent tantrums. Nevertheless, with the help of her teacher, Annie Mansfield Sullivan, Helen learned to read braille and to write by using a special typewriter. Their early relationship was the subject of The Miracle Worker, a 1960 Pulitzer prize-winning play and 1962 film by William Gibson.
In 1904 Helen Keller graduated with honors from Radcliffe College and began a life of writing, lecturing, and fundraising on behalf of the handicapped, becoming one of the most inspirational women of all time. Her life is one example after another of what it means to become strong in the midst of unrelenting difficulty, stress, and pain.
At the close of her autobiography Helen Keller writes,
Fate — silent, pitiless — bars the way. Fain would I question his imperious decree; for my heart is undisciplined and passionate, but my tongue will not utter the bitter, futile words that rise to my lips, and they fall back into my heart like unshed tears. Silence sits immense upon my soul. Then comes hope with a smile and whispers, ‘There is joy in self-forgetfulness.’ So I try to make the light in other people’s eyes my sun, the music in others’ ears my symphony, the smile on others’ lips my happiness.’
When we feed our faith, we starve our doubts. That’s what Helen Keller did for an entire lifetime, and it is what you and I must do if we are to find inner healing.
It’s easy to lament the past, play the role of victim, live with if onlys, and be consumed with profound doubts about our present and future based on earlier trauma. I know how easy it is, because I’ve been there all too often. We all have people, events, and memories in our background that haunt us, confuse us, and throw us for a loop at the most unsuspecting moment. We may be at a Christmas concert where we hear the choir sing, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and we well up with tears knowing we will never go home again under any circumtances. Or we may see a couple holding hands walking a deserted beach at sunset, and we recall a day when we were in a loving relationship that is no more.
There is no end to the fuel we could use to feed our sadness, fears, and doubts. But permitting the ghosts of our past to have a life of their own today will not help us recover from emotional exhaustion. It’s time to rid the past of its emotional poison, learn from its lessons, and use what was once negative energy to press on with your new life as you become strong again.
SOURCE: Chapter 5: “Removing the Ghosts of Your Past” in How to De-Stress Your Life by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.
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