Primers: Stories To Inspire For the New Year Part 3

“Put ‘going the extra mile’ to work as part of one’s daily habit” – Bruce Lee

A Nurse and Cookies

At just 19 months, Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing to a mysterious illness. As she grew into adulthood, unruliness, expressed in temper tantrums and terrorizing her home, marked her life. Her course changed when Anne Sullivan came into her life as a teacher. Underneath the wild behavior, Sullivan twigged something in Keller and worked to excavate the treasure that lay beneath the surface of Keller’s life. The influence that Anne Sullivan had on Keller was remarkable. Today, Helen Keller is globally remembered for her championing of the rights of the blind and the less fortunate. When one of England’s highest awards was pinned on Keller for her accomplishments, Queen Elizabeth asked, “How do you explain the fact that even though you are both blind and deaf, you were able to accomplish so much?” Almost instinctively, Keller replied, “If it had not been for Anne Sullivan, the name Helen Keller would have remained unknown.”

Sullivan went the second mile in Keller’s life because she experienced a second-mile touch in her own life. Sullivan could relate to Keller because she was once diagnosed as insane and considered a danger to society. She would have remained locked in the basement of a mental institution in Boston unless an elderly nurse took the time to see the potential in her. She began bringing cookies to Sullivan and leaving them in her room. This small act began to bring Sullivan, not only out of the basement of the institution but also out of the dungeons of a hopeless existence. Doctors noticed a change in Sullivan. This change continued until Sullivan was released. Her need to help others was inflamed, and that passion and purpose were exactly what Keller needed when their paths crossed.

Keller was right to say she would be unknown if it were not for Anne Sullivan. But I believe that without the elderly nurse, Anne Sullivan would not have been there to help Helen Keller. This is the upward effect of small acts performed by a second miler person. So in the vein of the elderly nurse, Anne Sullivan, and Helen Keller, how do we live as perennial second milers? 

Keen Observation

Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller were beneficiaries of keen observation. By looking beneath the surface of Sullivan’s diagnosis, the elderly nurse not only brought Anne out of the basement of the institution but also brought out the potential in Anne. As the nurse took note of Anne and believed there was hope for her, she took small steps to express that hope. Initially, “Little Annie” did not take note of the nurse or show any response to her words of encouragement. But she persisted, and Anne came around. 

Observation is walking with our eyes and hearts simultaneously opened. First, I believe with observation comes the possibility of new ideas. Observation activates our sense of introspection, which is the place where new ideas and thinking patterns start to form. Second, great questions that initiate change stem from keen observation. And third, keen observation helps us respond positively to the lives of others in crisis. Together, they produce the key to a second-mile lifestyle and unlock the door to active helpfulness.

Active Helpfulness

After Sullivan’s release from the mental institution, with her life impacted by the elderly nurse, she deeply desired to help others. Her opportunity came with Helen Keller, who, by all accounts, was a replication of Sullivan’s past existence of hopelessness. Just as she had been helped, Anne began working with young Keller. She went the second mile to draw out the potential Keller possessed that others could not see under the veneer of her unruliness. Where others gave up, Sullivan saw another option. With patience and love, the basis for active helpfulness, she assisted Keller in developing the discipline that would bring out her true worth. In Keller, Sullivan was presented with a small opportunity and went the second mile with active helpfulness. Are you present in the moments and opportunities in front of you to go the second mile? 

Final thought: People who live in the second mile are game-changers. They may not be famous in the world, but their legacy lives on in the lives of those they touch, like the elderly nurse or Anne Sullivan. Second milers are fully present in the moment and opportunity in front of them through keen observation and active helpfulness. Their lives are others-centered, and for it, the world is a better place. 

Keep on keeping on. 


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