Monday, December 21, 2020

"A Smile of the Mind Is a Gesture from the Soul" - Helen Keller after Reading the Lips of Mark Twain

Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan
Helen Keller
(b. 1880 - d. 1968) became very ill when only nineteen months old with either Scarlet Fever or Meningitis, two diseases now treatable in 2020, but often fatal in 1882. Helen survived, but a few days after Helen’s fever broke, her mother noticed that Helen wasn’t responding when the bell was rung for dinner, or when a hand was waved in front of her face. Helen had gone deaf and blind.

The family consulted with Alexandar Graham Bell (1847-1922), the inventor of the telephone and a pioneer in communicating with the deaf. Bell arranged for Anne Sullivan (1866-1936), a teacher from Perkin's School of the Blind, to travel to Helen's home to become the little girl's teacher. 

Helen called the day Anne Sullivan arrived in her life "the most important day I remember in all my life." Anne met Helen in March 1887, when Helen was not quite seven years old. Only fourteen years older than Helen, Anne herself was visually impaired and had just recently graduated from the school of the bind.

Before long, Anne Sullivan had taught Helen ‘finger spelling’, which allowed her to finally communicate with those around her. To do this, Anne gave Helen an object such as a doll and traced the word ‘d-o-l-l’ onto her palm.

In the beginning, Helen did not make the connection between the letters on her palm and the objects. But the famous moment came when Anne took Helen to the water pump outside and while spelling “w-a-t-e-r” into Helen’s palm, allowing the water to run over Helen's other hand. Comprehension dawned in Helen's mind. The little blind and deaf girl quickly knelt and touched the earth and held out her hand, demanding her new teacher to spell the earth's name in the form of letters. By nightfall, Helen had learned 30 new words.

Mark Twain in his octagonal study
Anne Sullivan became Helen Keller's life-long teacher.  Anne was present when Helen Keller would visit her life-long friend, writer Mark Twain, in both his Connecticut home and his octagonal study in Elmira, New York, where he would write some of his classic works, including Tom Saywer. 

Keller later wrote a vivid description of her interactions with Mark Twain:

"To one hampered and circumscribed as I am it was a wonderful experience to have a friend like Mr. Clemens. I recall many talks with him about human affairs. He never made me feel that my opinions were worthless. . . . He knew that we do not think with eyes and ears and that our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses. He kept me always in mind while he talked, and he treated me like a competent human being. That is why I loved him. . . . There was about him the air of one who had suffered greatly."

Of course, being deaf and blind, Helen Keller could only understand what Mark Twain said by feeling his lips and throat with one hand and having her teacher, Anne Sullivan, translate what Twain said by writing it in the palm of Helen's other hand. Listen to Helen Keller's vivid description of Mark Twain speaking:
"Whenever I touched his face his expression was sad, even when he was telling a funny story. He smiled, not with the mouth but with his mind—a gesture of the soul rather than of the face. His voice was truly wonderful. To my touch, it was deep, resonant. He had the power of modulating it so as to suggest the most delicate shades of meaning and he spoke so deliberately that I could get almost every word with my fingers on his lips. Ah, how sweet and poignant the memory of his soft slow speech playing over my listening fingers."

Keller feeling Twain's "smile of the mind"
I love Helen Keller's description of Mark Twain:

"He smiled, not with the mouth but with his mind--a gesture of the soul rather than of the face." 

I always want to be a person who smiles at others with my mind. I work to accept others where they are, for who they are, as they are. 

My personal motto is "Sometimes offends, never offended." That describes a principle by which I live. Nobody can live as long as I, be involved with as many people as I, and not sometimes offend other people.  I pay little attention to whether I offend others, but I pay great attention to ensure that others' words, actions, and attitudes never offend me, regardless of what they say, do, or feel.

This week, I encourage you to concentrate on smiling with your mind even more than smiling with your lips.

The smile of the mind is the token of God's grace in the soul.


Rex Ray said...


A remarkable account of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.

Ah! Mark Twain: “Those who don’t read the newspaper are not informed; those that do are misinformed.”

I believe today, he could substitute CNN.

Rex Ray said...


I’m glad you’re not offended by me going in a ‘different direction’ with my previous comment. :)

Wade Burleson said...

No offense! :)

Instugator said...

Pastor Wade,
This is a lovely post, particularly after cancel culture decided that Helen Keller was next on their list this past week.

Thank you,

Christiane said...

" We are all blind and deaf until our eyes are open to our fellow men. If we had penetrating vision we would not endure what we see in the world today." (Helen Keller, Feb. 6, 1913)

Christiane said...

I think Hellen Keller might have found some meaning in this from Paul Wallace:

"“” We belong in the universe no less than electrons and galaxies, after all, and we simply cannot stop living our lives as if love is real and as if it matters ultimately. So maybe it is real and it does matter ultimately.
We are not freaks. Instead, we express a core cosmic reality when guided by love, we make even the tiniest of choices. We are drawn by love toward a world we can’t quite see but occasionally glimpse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . a world Jesus called the kingdom of God.”
(Paul Wallace)

Rex Ray said...


Jon Rappoport | Gyaanipedia Wiki | Fandom

The link above states:

“Jon Rappoport (born April 16, 1938) is an American journalist and author living in San Diego, California with his wife, Dr. Laura Thompson, with whom he does much work advocating alternative medicine.

He studied philosophy for four years at Amherst College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1960. He has published the web site since 2001.

He has been an investigative reporter for over 20 years. Rappoport has also authored several non-fiction books. Although his main focus over these years has been the power of the imagination and creativity, he is most often cited and interviewed as an authority on conspiracies and global elites, the work of the latter, as Rappoport sees it, in general being implemented through the seven global cartels, which he identifies as the government, military, money, intelligence, energy, media, and medical.

Rappoport is vice-president of the publishing house Truth Seeker Company, Inc. and authors and sells audio CDs on magic, past life regression and development of paranormal abilities. For a period from 2010-2011 Rappoport hosted his own weekly radio show on the Progressive Radio Network.”

Christiane said...

it takes all kinds - but when someone like Jon Rappoport who only has a bachelor's degree in philosophy from a small new England college claims to have vast knowledge of the world medical scene, people should at least investigate the creds of such an individual before they put their lives in his hands

any connection to science or medicine? nope - but he does help his wife sell 'alternative' medicines out in California (?)

Mr. Rappoport runs with the conspiracy theory crowd and that is NOT a 'plus' to his credibility, no

be cautious, dear people

Rex Ray said...


Can you explain if new developments by the CDC has happened, or is it a bluff?

The link above states:

“SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was isolated in the laboratory and is available for research by the scientific and medical community.

One important way that CDC has supported global efforts to study and learn about SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory was by growing the virus in cell culture and ensuring that it was widely available.

Researchers in the scientific and medical community can use virus obtained from this work in their studies.”

Anonymous said...

Rex, if you watched that link I sent with the discussion between Rappoport and Cowan you’d see that simply using the word “isolated” doesn’t mean they went through the steps to actually isolate (separate) the said virus (like they used to decades ago before Fauci was employed) from all other foreign material, and then do trial studies to prove said virus is the cause of illness in x number of participants in the study. This would take months. The article you referenced proved neither...they took serum from one person and did not truly isolate the virus from everything else around it.

Would you take a vaxx that was only tested via clinical trials on one person? Heck no!

Looks like the lates country to admit there is no such convid-19 is Ireland:

Christiana, seems you’re still shooting the messenger. The Master was crucified by those who didn’t like his message. Pharisees were hung up by the fact that he didn’t have the appropriate diplomas on his wall.

Anonymous said...
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Muff Potter said...

Smile of the mind is one of the best articles you've published here Wade.
Hearty thanks from Southern California!

Rex Ray said...


Thanks so much; your reply is like a ‘Christmas present’.

Any comment made by someone can be deleted by Wade, or that person. For the person to delete their comment, they can click on a symbol that looks like a trashcan with a lid on top and its gone. (They will be the only one to see it.)

For an example, I’m going to put this comment of mine on the blog twice, and then I’m going to click on the trashcan (that only I can see,) and people can read the explanation why its gone.

Rex Ray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christiane said...

Hello Sojourner,
you wrote, this: "
Christiana, seems you’re still shooting the messenger. The Master was crucified by those who didn’t like his message."

Sojourner, in my Church, we sinners are the reasons why Our Lord willingly died for us - to save us from OUR sins, and looking upon Christ Crucified, we repent with broken hearts and resolve to turn towards the Lord again and away from the darkness

I think your explanation of evangelical religion may be the clearest explanation of the major differences between right wing evangelical perspectives and those of my own Church, so I appreciate the dialogue. I did not realize what evangelicals taught about 'who' crucified Our Lord. I had assumed that evangelicals were closer to my own beliefs concerning Christ Crucified and Risen from the dead. You have a blessed and safe Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Christiane, sorry I botched your name last night when I posted (tired).

Does it change anything if i’m not a right winger, but rather sort of a political atheist ( slash voluntaryist?

My comment about the crucifixion was merely said in the historical context. Some people didn’t want the Great Physician crucified (the sick) while many did (the well). Did he die for both? You bet!

Christiane said...

Sojourner, thank you for reassuring me. I misunderstood your context originally. You have a wonderful Christmas Day, hopefully with your family near.

Many Evangelical doctrines remain a mystery to me after years of trying to comprehend them, but I at least have made effort to understand and have thanked those who shared with me.

Christiane said...

Sojourner, thank you for reassuring me. I misunderstood your context originally. You have a wonderful Christmas Day, hopefully with your family near.

Many Evangelical doctrines remain a mystery to me after years of trying to comprehend them, but I at least have made effort to understand and have thanked those who shared with me.

GladsomeHeart said...

What a beautiful story. I've always been fascinated by Helen Keller and how she broke through her blind and silent world with the help of Anne to become such a deep thinker and excellent communicator. I'm going to adopt the phrase "smile of the mind" as well :)