Memory as sanctuary

Everyone needs a safe, quiet place. I have several. Some are spacial or geographical. Others are “back there” in my memory or in our collective memory that we call history. During 2020, sometimes I have retreated to a sanctuary for sanity or renewal when our president has done something particularly outrageous or offensive, or when the pandemic’s disruption or dislocation became painful.

If you find solace and healing by connecting with persons from our common memory vault, I offer three stories by historian Christopher Flannery, adapted from a November 6 online lecture at Hillsdale College and printed as “Mystic Chords of Memory: Learning From the American Story” in the November 2020 issue of Hillsdale’s publication Imprimis.

Flannery gives three snapshots into the lives of Helen Keller, John Wayne and Ely Parker. If you find yourself in need of a pick-me-up this winter, I invite you to read, or re-read, one or more of these snapshots, particularly Flannery’s telling of Keller’s friendship with Mark Twain. A flavor:

“…he spoke so deliberately that I could get almost every word with my fingers on his lips. Ah, how sweet and poignant the memory of his soft slow speech playing over my listening fingers. His words seemed to take strange lovely shapes on my hands. His own hands were wonderfully mobile and changeable under the influence of emotion. It has been said that life has treated me harshly; and sometimes I have complained in my heart because many pleasures of human experience have been withheld from me, but when I recollect the treasure of friendship that has been bestowed upon me I withdraw all charges against life. If much has been denied me, much, very much has been given me. So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart I shall say that life is good.”

1955 photo of Helen Keller (1880-1968) by Fred Stein (1909-1967), Getty Images/Fred Stein Archive

2 thoughts on “Memory as sanctuary”

    1. Yes, it’s hard to imagine all she was able to accomplish. When the state series of 25 cent pieces was introduced, I was pleased she was honored on the Alabama Version of the Washington Quarter.


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