Day of Ideas
Tech & Innovation
Arts & Letters
Idealism & Practicality
Nature & Environment
Markets & Morals
Politics & Presidents
Atlantic Home Page
THREE DAYS TO SEE
by Helen Keller
All of us have read thrilling stories in which the hero had only a limited and
specified time to live. Sometimes it was as long as a year; sometimes as short
as twenty-four hours. But always we were interested in discovering just how the doomed man chose to spend his last days or his last hours. I speak, of course, of free men who have a choice, not condemned criminals whose sphere of activities is strictly delimited.
Such stories set us thinking, wondering what we should do under similar
circumstances. What events, what experiences, what associations, should we
crowd into those last hours as mortal beings? What happiness should we find in
reviewing the past, what regrets?
Sometimes I have thought it would be an excellent rule to live each day as if
we should die tomorrow. Such an attitude would emphasize sharply the values of
life. We should live each day with a gentleness, a vigor, and a keenness of
appreciation which are often lost when time stretches before us in the constant
panorama of more days and months and years to come. There are those, of course,
who would adopt the epicurean motto of 'Eat, drink, and be merry,' but most
people would be chastened by the certainty of impending death.
In stories, the doomed hero is usually saved at the last minute by some stroke
of fortune, but almost always his sense of values is changed. He becomes more
appreciative of the meaning of life and its permanent spiritual values. It has
often been noted that those who live, or have lived, in the shadow of death
bring a mellow sweetness to everything they do.
Most of us, however, take life for granted. We know that one day we must die,
but usually we picture that day as far in the future. When we are in buoyant
health, death is all but unimaginable. We seldom think of it. The days stretch
out in an endless vista. So we go about our petty tasks, hardly aware of our
listless attitude toward life.
The same lethargy, I am afraid, characterizes the use of all our faculties and
senses. Only the deaf appreciate hearing, only the blind realize the manifold
blessings that lie in sight. Particularly does this observation apply to those
who have lost sight and hearing in adult life. But those who have never
suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these
blessed faculties. Their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily,
without concentration and with little appreciation. It is the same old story of
not being grateful for what we have until we lose it, of not being conscious of
health until we are ill.
I have often thought it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken
blind and deaf for a few days at some time during his early adult life.
Darkness would make him more appreciative of sight; silence would teach him the
joys of sound.