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Writing and Healing Idea #9: The Mystery of Language

Posted on Oct 4, 2006 by

In Helen Keller’s memoir, The Story of My Life, she describes a now famous moment that occurred between her and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, when she was seven:

We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.

Helen Keller made a connection: between the cool stream gushing over one hand and the shapes of the letters traced upon the other:


Do you remember the first connections you made between letters and words and things?

Do you remember, for instance, your first phonics book?  The pictures in that phonics book?  Or any of your early readers?

What about the way the ABC’s looked in your first-grade classroom?  What about the shapes of those letters?  Or the way it felt to hold a pencil and write those letters?  What about that paper with the dotted lines?

Do you remember what you felt when you first discovered letters?  Or what you felt when you first discovered that words and letters were connected to actual things?

Choose one particular moment of remembering.  Perhaps a moment in a classroom.  Or perhaps you were riding in a car and you were able to read a sign for the first time.  Or maybe you remember one particular book from childhood.  Pick one moment or thing.  And then conjure the details of it.  What do you see?  What do you hear?  What do you feel?  Write the words that conjure the details.  Make the words into sentences if you want.