一、One Girl Changed My Life
My childhood and adolescence were a joyous outpouring of energy, a ceaseless quest for expression, skill, and experience. School was only a background to the supreme delight of lessons in music, dance, and dramatics, and the thrill of sojourns in the country, theaters, concerts. And books, big Braille books that came with me on streetcars, to the table, and to bed. Then one night at a high school dance, a remark, not intended for my ears, stabbed my youthful bliss: “That girl, what a pity she is blind.” Blind! That ugly word that implied everything dark, blank, rigid, and helpless. Quickly I turned and called out, Please don’t feel sorry for me, I’m having lots of fun. But the fun was not to last.
With the advent of college, I was brought to grips with the problem of earning a living. Part-time teaching of piano and harmony and, upon graduation, occasional concerts and lectures, proved only partial sources of livelihood. In terms of time and effort involved, the financial remuneration was disheartening. This induced within me searing self-doubt and dark moods of despondency. Adding to my dismal sense of inadequacy was the repeated experience of seeing my sisters and friends go off to exciting dates. How grateful I was for my piano, where—through Chopin, Brahms, and Beethoven—I could mingle my longing and seething energy with theirs. And where I could dissolve my frustration in the beauty and grandeur of their conceptions.
Then one day, I met a girl, a wonderful girl, an army nurse, whose faith and stability were to change my whole life. As our acquaintance ripened into friendship, she discerned, behind a shell of gaiety, my recurring plateaus of depression. She said, “Stop knocking on closed doors. Keep up your beautiful music. I know your opportunity will come. You’re trying too hard. Why don’t you relax, and have you ever tried praying?”
The idea was strange to me. It sounded too simple. Somehow, I had always operated on the premise that, if you wanted something in this world, you had to go out and get it for yourself. Yet, sincerity and hard work had yielded only meager returns, and I was willing to try anything. Experimentally, self-consciously, I cultivated the daily practice of prayer. I said: God, show me the purpose for which You sent me to this world. Help me to be of use to myself and to humanity.
In the years to follow, the answers began to arrive, clear and satisfying beyond my most optimistic anticipation. One of the answers was Enchanted Hills, where my nurse friend and I have the privilege of seeing blind children come alive in God’s out-of-doors. Others are the never-ending sources of pleasure and comfort I have found in friendship, in great music, and, most important of all, in my growing belief that as I attune my life to divine revelation, I draw closer to God and, through Him, to immortality.
Occasionally my mother used to announce that she was going to take time out from the day's activities "to rest," she would say, "and to invite my soul." She always put the phrase in quotes, in order, I expect, to divert the facetious remarks which might arise from the worldly or practical-minded folk within earshot or disarm those who might feel "soul" was a Sunday word not to be used in everyday conversation.
But she meant to do exactly what she said, "invite my soul."
The pressure of the modern world is so great upon us today that we find little time for rest, physical rest, let alone leisure for spiritual reception. Thus, when we take the word "soul" out of its Sunday clothes it is unfamiliar to us, we don't know it very well. We may have different interpretations of the meaning of the word; to some it may mean "conscience," to others that part of our being given us with life. I believe with Dr. Schweitzer in the sanctity of life, that the miracle called life, which cannot be manufactured by man, does come from a source which we call God, and that life and soul are the same. And yet when I am asked point-blank, "What do you believe?" I hedge and play for time in my confusion by saying, "Well, now, that's a pretty big question."
It is not altogether the pressure of the modern world which has clouded our comprehension; "the simple faith of our fathers" got a nasty jolt when Copernicus propounded his theory that the sun and stars did not revolve around the earth and that therefore man was not the sole object of celestial concern. Darwin dealt another blow and Freud's search into the operations of our hidden selves shook our conviction that man could be made in the image of God.