Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all--Helen Keller

Helen's life

"At the age of 19 months, Helen became deaf and blind as a result of an unknown illness, perhaps rubella or scarlet fever. As Helen grew from infancy into childhood, she became wild and unruly." (from 

American author and polirical activist Helen Keller (1880-1968) knew something about being isolated, about feeling alone and insecure. Her early experience in life was of darkness and silence. How must she have imagined the world to be?--a place unknown and unknowable, where she was solitary, without any companions, with only her own imagination to guide her.

Not until her parents brought a tutor, Anne Sullivan, into the household did Helen learn how to communicate from within her dark, silent reality.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

With Anne's help and teaching, Helen learned to read Braille, write, sign, and speak. She graduated from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, MA and devoted her talents to expanding her world. In her later life, Helen was a writer and advocate for women's rights, people with disabilities, and pacifism (she was a committed Socialist). Helen traveled internationally to more than 40 countries, was the friend of politicians, business executives, and religious leaders, and led a life that seems glamorous.

Yet she never saw or heard her surroundings. She depended on people around her to keep her from physical danger and guide her movements. Helen's life, in many ways, entirely lacked the security that an independent and self-reliant person seeks.

Your life

In similar circumstances, a person could choose to retreat from any new circumstances, seeking safety and protection over exploration. But Helen did just the opposite, saying

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of humankind as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all."

What can we learn from Helen Keller? At the very least, we can admire her overcoming immense challenges and her lifelong spirit of exploration. But a deeper lesson is in her words:

"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure." Common sense tells us to minimize risk and make sensible choices in life. But how much exhilirating and fulfilling adventure do we miss? No matter how we try to live, we have little control over the big events that shape our lives: political upheavals, natural disasters, illness, and (in the end) death itself. So why not show some daring?

Our hard-won security, bought by giving up what is not a "sure bet" and by choosing what seems to be risk-free, can be whisked away in a moment, by circumstances beyond our control--what insurance companies (who seem to offer security) call "an act of God." 

Or it can be that we manage to live an entire life in safety. What then? Is the purpose of life to be warm and well-fed, tending to our own needs (and maybe those of a family, if we have one--raising a family is a big risk, after all!) Or is it possible that the purpose of life is to stretch our limits, go where we never dreamed to go, do what we thought we could not do?

Each person makes these decisions individually, incrementally, over time. But few people make the big decision all at once--to live life as a daring adventure. Helen Keller did. 


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