I awoke to darkness all around me, swallowing me, suffocating me. I cried out, but even that was sucked into the void, making not even a whisper of sound. My breath came hard and fast, and it was some time before I dared move. Raising a tentative arm, I groped about, finding a rail that signified a hospital bed.
Lifting my hand toward my face, I felt rubbery bandages swathing my head. At the pressure, my body erupted in pain. I forced myself to touch my eyes, to feel myself opening the lids. But no light entered them.
An unexpected pressure on my leg startled me. My flailing hand was grasped. Another person! I seized it and clung tightly. “Why can’t I see?” I could feel the words leave my mouth, but they hung in the air, unheard, unanswered. “Why can’t I hear?”
The hand patted mine, but I felt no calmer. Bodiless-hands checked my body, listening to my chest, changing my bandages. Pills were slipped into my mouth and water held to my lips. Sometimes I grabbed at the hands and pulled. Perhaps I screamed. I needed to communicate, needed answers.
Yet none came.
Time passed, marked only by restless naps and trays of soft food spooned into my mouth. My panic grew, trapped within me, unable to get out except by my constant tears. I came to recognize one of the hands that often held mine. It was calloused and small, and a ring with a single diamond poked up from one finger. I knew it was Mother. Her hand was the only thing that keep me from going insane.
I tried praying. Over and over I prayed, God, I need to feel Your presence. Let me feel Your touch. But those words, too, were only swallowed up in the black abyss.
One day a different set of hands grasped mine; feminine, yet strong and confident. She slipped her hand under mine, and made a strange shape, with three fingers jutting up. She lifted the odd handshape to her chin, tapping twice.
Abruptly the hands disappeared and were replaced with a glass of water. I frowned, but obediently sipped. The glass was removed and with my own hand, she made the same three-fingered shape and placed it against my chin. Then the glass was back.
Confusion poured out in the ever-present tears. My grip on the glass trembled, and a splash of water fell cold against my chest. Water! Understanding flooded me. The shape with the three fingers, the movement against the chin, that was a word: the sign for water.
I laughed. I was Helen Keller and this was my own Annie Sullivan. I reached toward her, eager for more signs. I could feel her own excitement course through her fingers.
My mother’s familiar hand was pressed into mine, and then this Annie showed me a new handshape, a simple one with all the fingers spread. It too, was tapped on the chin. I beamed. Mother.
The Annie hands returned day after day. When she was not there, Mom and I tried out our new language, making simple one or two word comments.
One day I turned to the sign teacher and my mom, eager to tell of plans I had for the future. I wanted to get a guide dog. I wanted to meet other people who communicated the same way. I wanted…. I lifted my hands to explain, but I didn’t know any of those words.
Frustration hit me with unexpected force. I had been talking for decades, yet now I could not even communicate my thoughts. The enormity of all the learning still ahead struck me, and I fell back to the pillow. God? Why? Where are You?
The Annie hands slipped gently beneath my clenched fists, clasping in the universal sign for prayer. Her hands began moving, bringing my whole hand and arm along for the ride.
I don’t know what she’s saying, God. I don’t know what she’s telling You.
While tears made winding rivers down my cheeks, I sat and simply let my body move with the teacher’s. The words glided beneath my hands, and slowly I began to Understand. Not the words, but the prayer itself, flowing up to God.
I lay back, I who had no words, letting myself feel the spirit of the prayer that danced before me. It was then I felt Him. Through this Annie’s hands, I felt the touch of God.
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