Thursday, September 30, 2010


An editorial confession: I’ve been more or less begging Reid Holloway to write something for CTMajority for awhile, but not on my knees; these things are accomplished through subtleties. Mr. Holloway, always alarmingly astute, has written for this page before. Here, Mr. Holloway has a Damascus Road experience while reflecting on one of his favorite films and decides, peremptorily but justly, that Helen Keller IS America.

Prepare yourself for an entertaining journey of the mind. Emblazoned on Robert Frost’s tombstone is the legend: “I had a lover's quarrel with the world.” So do we all. This is part of Reid’s lover’s quarrel.

A stern word of warning: Those who are determined to denigrate the Tea Party movement should prayerfully pass by.

Don Pesci


Sometimes when I turn in for the night, I’ll boot up the television to relax a bit before dozing off.

Then, as happened one recent morning, it will still be on, as my large pet cat is pacing on my chest, applying about four pounds of pressure per foot to stir me into doing my job: hitting the deck and feeding him.

So there I was, following the cat’s orders, filling his bowl, when I glanced back at the television and noticed that the great 1962 film production starring Anne Bancroft and introducing Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker, was just getting under way.

I was a nine-year-old boy when that film came out, traveling with my Mom in Ohio visiting relatives. I’m not exactly sure how it happened—maybe our relatives had something else to do that afternoon that didn’t include us—but we found ourselves in a theatre out there in Ohio to see that film.

So as I was watching it more recently while feeding the cat, that was the first memory that came back to me. My mind wandered a little more, and I recalled that Patty Duke would encounter a great challenge many years later in her own life, confronting depression problems and successfully dealing with them. I chuckled in also recalling the fact that Anne Bancroft was married to Mel Brooks. Let that one roll around in your head for a minute or two.

Finally, the cat now occupied with his food and my mental focus starting to take hold, I concentrated on the film. It really is a wonderful film in my opinion and I heartily recommend it for a high-priority Netflix cue position for anyone who enjoys drama and crisp execution, in this case both the production itself as well as Bancroft’s and Duke’s riveting performances.

It’s the story of Helen Keller. Bancroft portrays Annie Sullivan, “the miracle worker” who leads the young disabled girl out of the prison of her existence—unable to speak, see or hear—into the light of freedom, self-sufficiency and eventually, iconic exemplar. It ain’t an easy journey, and it isn’t just Keller’s disabilities obviating the liberation. A host of other factors stands in the way, including her own parents, well intentioned and loving, along with the tenor of the times and the stiffness of a culture reflecting an era so long gone in this country you can only wonder how we got from there to Jay Z today. That’s a bit of a mind-bender all by itself.

The Fist Comes Out of the Screen and Socks Me in the Puss!

So there I was, innocently pulling on my coffee mug, gaining some semblance of coherency (thanks to my favorite brand, Price-Rite’s private label in that giant can), as one of numerous WWE-like cage matches between Helen and Miss Sullivan are acted out, this particular one being the confrontation centered on young Helen’s intransigence regarding civilized table manners, including, but hardly limited to, flying bowls and food, near fisticuffs, a more than healthy portion of yelling and screaming, etc. And on this occasion, there is a major breakthrough. Helen complies.

The camera zooms in as Helen not only acquiesces and calms down, but politely sits down and—super close-up—we see her obediently fold her napkin. You can’t describe the magnitude of this moment and how effectively it is staged. But I can tell you that my mind was no longer wandering; I was caffeine-spellbound with the scene unfolding before me, and maybe even a housefly or two lazily glided in and out of my wide-open mouth. It’s just transfixing stuff as only Hollywood can do it, ending with another close-up of Helen’s mother’s face, relaxing and smiling for the first time—perhaps in years. Both parents regard this as the ultimate victory; Miss Sullivan, on the other hand, has another view.

Thanks to Google and, a website whose keepers have painstakingly manually transcribed scripts of dozens of films, I will now simply lift the dialogue verbatim of William Gibson’s deft screenplay that follows this key turn of events, the interchange between Helen’s father and Miss Sullivan:


Come in.

Miss Annie, your first month's salary.

With many more to come, I trust.

It doesn't pay our debt
for what you've done.

I've taught her one thing: No.
Don't do this, don't do that.

- It's more than we could do...

- I wanted to teach her what language is.
I know without it
to do nothing but obey is no gift.

Obedience without understanding is
a blindness. Is that all I've wished on her?

- No.

- Maybe.

I don't know what else to do.

I simply go on and keep doing what I've
done and have faith that inside she's...
that inside is waiting,
like water underground.

- You can help, Captain Keller.

- How?

The world is not an easy place
for anyone.
I don't want her just to obey.

But to let her have her way
in everything is a lie.
To her.
And I don't even love her.
She's not my child.

You've got to stand between
that lie and her.

Won't you come now to supper?


Holy Cow! Did that ever grab me by the…errr…“throat.” I looked down at the cup in my hand, to make sure I wasn’t so distracted I had spilled coffee all over the floor. It reverberated like a shout into the Grand Canyon, over and over—the miracle worker’s lament:

Obedience without understanding is
a blindness. Is that all I've wished on her?

What a moving line. Captain Keller in his own way is trying to express as best he can appreciation for a job well done, while Miss Sullivan—her enlightened consciousness wrapped up in and informed by the importance of language and its connection to freedom and independence—knows the job has barely begun. Misguided gratitude for accomplishment is met with a rebuke for insensitivity and fecklessness. Captain Keller’s valid intent reveals the two to be ships passing in the night. Eventually, however, Sullivan convinces Helen’s dubious father to grasp the importance of continuing the work. And Helen Keller goes on, not just to great things in the context of the handicapped, but extraordinary things in any context of the eons of the human struggle and condition.

America Is Helen Keller in Macrocosm

One more time for—please excuse me—the deaf, dumb and blind:

Obedience without understanding is
a blindness. Is that all I've wished on her?

I simply go on and keep doing what I've
done and have faith that inside she's...
that inside is waiting,
like water underground.


You've got to stand between
that lie and her.

Helen Keller came along about a century after our Founding Fathers constructed the Republic, but if you squint a little and play with the clock, it’s almost as though they had this courageous woman before them as a human template and codified her life story into the great principles of our nation.

Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, Washington, Jay and all the rest whose hands wrote it down—from the Declaration to the Articles, to systemic failure, then the Preamble, to the Constitution itself and its great selling document, The Federalist Papers—and eventually resuscitated the Republic…. They understood two things:

1. Freedom is God’s gift and humankind’s inherent and morally inviolable nature. The American Republic and the founders didn’t provide it; they only did the right thing in acknowledging it and solemnly vowing to create a nation dedicated to protecting that delicate flame against any and all crosswinds.

2. Freedom is always inside us and never dies, even when fear of the perils of nature may lure us into desiring a securer existence at the expense of freedom. The founders understood that that desire brings with it the consequence of tyranny, however seductive the sales pitch, and:

that inside is waiting,
like water underground.

You've got to stand between
that lie and her.

Just as it’s difficult for me to trace the insane path that’s taken us from Helen Keller to Jay Z, regarding our nation writ large, I bear as much soul-torturing confusion trying to understand how we got from George Washington to Barack Obama.

But when I look at the seemingly well intentioned goodness of Captain Keller, the mist and fog starts to clear a little. It’s a big bad world, life is tough, and obedience and security can look very attractive to a beleaguered citizenry tempted to give up on its ethical duty of sovereignty. The financial meltdown of 2007-2008, President Bush’s ignominious proclamation, "I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system," and the horrifying face of RINO John McCain as the standard bearer of the conservative voting bloc all combined to induce a good many decent but shell-shocked citizens to sit on their hands—while proactive Obamabots besotted with visions of their nominee’s “transformational America” marched devotedly to the polls—and we failed “to stand between that lie and her.”


It’s been brought about via a negative experience, the Obama experience, but at last we’ve been rewarded with the apprehension that those good, once somnambulating, loyal citizens—that’s us, We the People—have reawakened. We did it, from Town Halls to demonstrations to stuffing envelopes to generous financial support to door-to-door campaigning. We’re ready for something big come this November and atoning for our negligence and its consequences. We’re mending our ways. We’re involved. Big time.

Later on in her life, Helen Keller was in huge demand around the world, a global celebrity. She traveled 35 countries spanning five continents to satisfy a clamorous and large, dedicated following near and far to spread the message of courage and independence embodied by her life story. They loved it. They loved it because it was the story of America. At age 75, she did a 40,000-mile Asian trek over just five months.

And this may be a good point in the story to interject something else. For I know that many of my Tea Party, Republican and other flavors of conservative friends know that I stand with them on most issues—particularly the civil liberties at the core of the Tea Party movement’s success, even as our elected officials tried to stack the deck, turned their backs on many Town Halls and behaved abysmally at others they did show up for.

Many didn’t even bother reading much of Obama’s legislative initiatives before enacting it into law.

But my conservative friends may give me a hard time for paying homage to Helen Keller. For Helen Keller was a wholehearted socialist, avid pacifist and dyed-in-the-wool antiwar activist. It would not be overstating matters to say that she viewed the American military establishment as an appendage to rich capitalists, and viewed war as nothing more or less than a capitalist tool for forcibly allocating the world’s riches to those capitalists. Mainly, however, her tours around the world focused on advocacy for the handicapped, although she invariably laced her comments with these antiwar views, and she enjoyed taking the newspapers to task for admiring and praising her intelligence, and example in overcoming her impairments, then later trashing her when they learned about what they considered her anti-American—if not outright treasonous—opinions. These same “journalists” then expediently discarded their earlier tributes and replaced them with crude and lazy hack jobs averring that Keller’s handicaps had interfered with a “proper” understanding of, and loyalty to, her country. That is to say, even though their bias was of a different nature, they were just as scurrilous as today’s news media.

The day arrived when she would do The Big Show—addressing an audience in New York at Carnegie Hall, and the press hit her hard. The Big Town was abuzz for weeks in anticipation of Keller’s arrival. And the Hall was jam packed to the rafters when Keller took the stage and approached the podium. They say it was quieter than a church mouse. This was before modern air conditioning and crystal-clear sound systems. Keller’s impaired speech was neither particularly voluble nor easy to make out. Nobody wanted to miss a syllable. So they shut up, and they were still, and they craned their necks and cocked their ears with rapt attention. Keller told her story and it probably took about 45 minutes, if that. Here’s some of what she had to say that day, January 5, 1916—heavy stuff, to say the least.

"I have a word to say to my good friends, the editors, and others who are moved to pity me. Some people are grieved because they imagine I am in the hands of unscrupulous persons who lead me astray and persuade me to espouse unpopular causes and make me the mouthpiece of their propaganda. Now, let it be understood once and for all that I do not want their pity; I would not change places with one of them. I know what I am talking about. My sources of information are as good and reliable as anybody else's. I have papers and magazines from England, France, Germany and Austria that I can read myself. Not all the editors I have met can do that. Quite a number of them have to take their French and German second hand. No, I will not disparage the editors. They are an overworked, misunderstood class. Let them remember, though, that if I cannot see the fire at the end of their cigarettes, neither can they thread a needle in the dark. All I ask, gentlemen, is a fair field and no favor. I have entered the fight against preparedness and against the economic system under which we live. It is to be a fight to the finish, and I ask no quarter."
I say Keller faced circumstances that were no different from the massive disrespect those who populate the Tea Party movement have faced throughout their efforts. Her views weren’t popular or fashionable, but she should have gotten a fair and evenhanded hearing and an honest debate. Instead she got ad hominem attacks. Sound familiar? It wasn’t fair play for Helen Keller then; it isn’t fair play among the Bill Mahers, Michael Moores and many others today who do much the same thing. I also say it doesn’t conform to the Founding Fathers’ notions of freedom and free competition of ideas. Helen Keller waged a clean fight. And so has the Tea Party.

And then she was done

It was one of those moments that, if you were there, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between a minute and an hour. But there was definitely a long pause between the conclusion of her remarks and the audience’s response. Because they were stunned, amazed by what she had been through all her life, astonished by what she had overcome, and overwhelmed by her modesty and simplicity. And I’m sure quite a few of them were less than appreciative of her politics. But mainly they were just plain dumbfounded (how appropriate) by this…miracle.

So there was a long pause while they figured out what to do. Don’t forget, Keller was still deaf and blind.

And then Carnegie Hall erupted. The whole place was on its feet, pounding the seats with their fists and stomping the floor with their feet. Carnegie Hall shook.

And up on stage Keller could feel it—from the bottom of her soles right up to her hairdo. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Love vibrated throughout Manhattan.

That’s what I want to feel at about 10:00 p.m. on November 2.

Reid Holloway, a realtor associated with The Cohen Agency of Torrington, Connecticut, is a consultant specializing in strategic development. A professor on, Mr. Holloway is the creator of the “RLH Volatility Model." He was an editor with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publications, handled speaking engagements for chairman Peter Grace of W.R. Grace & Co, has been published by The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times and is a regular guest on four ClearChannel radio stations based in Monterey , California . CTMajority is pleased to print his contribution.
Post a Comment