June 16, 2019

The Miracle Worker

“The deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pin ball.” – The Pin Ball Wizard by The Who

Looking at our tickets for The Miracle Worker at IRT in Indianapolis, we said “.. know the story; long drive.” We went anyway.

 What a treat! One of those gifts we get only when we go. The story is most moving. The Miracle Worker Time Magazine said “…unforgettable theater.” It was unforgettable and an   outstanding performance.

Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, had a hard life — impoverished, with limited sight, sent to a home for the poor — and yet persistent. She was transferred to a school for the blind and realized accomplishments from a teacher who believed in her.

Every person has value.  This was the essence of how she treated Helen — knowing that Helen had value, she could learn and be successful in spite of blindness and deafness.

Expect the best. When Annie arrived at the Keller’s home, it was clear Helen was treated with pity, as damaged goods. There were few expectations and Helen had run of the house.  Annie Sullivan expected the best — a reminder for all of us when we interact with family or friends as they struggle. At some level we know they can do better and want them to know also.

Specify results. Sullivan was specific in her outcome: that Helen understands language. She spelled words incessantly in Helen’s hand, as she coupled the noun to touching the item and the verb to some movement or connection. Never mind Annie’s hands ached, she was consistent and relentless in teaching Helen.

It wasn’t easy; there were numerous struggles. Helen was not eager to accept that she could cooperate; she was not eager to accept hope; she was not eager to change her norms within the household. In a poignant scene Annie struggles with Helen who would not sit at the table or eat with utensils; after all, she had always walked around the table, using her fingers to eat off everyone’s plate. The struggle went on for what seemed like 10 minutes of a tantrum in order to establish limits (though we didn’t visually see it, the tantrum went all afternoon) — Annie announcing that Helen “folded her napkin.”

Parenting is a tough job. The scene reminded me of teaching parenting classes. We role played kids tantrums when teaching parenting skills. Our tantrums didn’t last as long as in real life, but parents got the connections.

Annie considered giving up and wondered if Helen would ever get the language or be nice. She persisted and essentially demanded the parents also cooperate with her in working with Helen.

Limits are a good thing for all of us. Ultimately of course, the breakthrough came. Helen gets it and rapid change follows. At this point Annie is “teacher” and Helen is grateful. So it is with most children and even adults. They want limits and confidence in those limits, even as they express satisfaction with the norm and perhaps their fear of change.

The Miracle Worker is showing at the Indianapolis Repertory Theater, every weekend, and some Wednesdays, through May 20.

See the play.  Consider these lessons:

  1. 1.     Treat yourself and others with positive expectations.
  2. 2.     Have specific outcomes in mind.
  3. 3.     Be up to the struggle
  4. 4.     Understand that kids (and adults) want limits and guidance even as they struggle.

Bill

Comments

  1. Linda Leslie says:

    Inspiring – and makes me remember too you have to put yourself out to get something back. And welcome back to blogland!

  2. David Bray says:

    Bill–

    Good to have you blogging again. The point that we all have value and often unique talents is validated by your The Who quote and Helen Keller’s life.