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If i had only three days left of sight

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 to-morrow. 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 facilities and senses.

Only the deaf appreciate hearing, only the blind realize the manifold blessings that lie in sight.

  1. I can admire the simple lines of a Greek vase, but its figured decorations are lost to me. If with the oncoming darkness if the third night you knew that the sun would never rise for you again, how would you spend those three intervening days?
  2. How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? His sins were now set in order before him; he was in the dark concerning his own spiritual state, and wounded in spirit for sin.
  3. When we are in buoyant health, death is all but unimaginable.

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.

  • For three days Saul took no food, and it pleased God to leave him for that time without relief;
  • What happiness should we find in reviewing the past, what regrets?
  • But always we were interested in discovering just how the doomed man chose to spend his last days or his last hours;
  • You who can see can spend many fruitful days there, but I, with my imaginary three days of sight, could only take a hasty glimpse, and pass on;
  • Their eyes are blind to this magnificent sight because it is so familiar to them.

Darkness would make him more appreciative of sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound. Now and then I have tested my seeing friends to discover what they see. Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed.

I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little. How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? I who cannot see find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch.

I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf.

Three Days to See, as published in Atlantic Monthly, (January, 1933)

I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. In spring I touch the branches of trees hopefully in search of a bud, the first sign of awakening Nature after her winter's sleep. I feel the delightful, velvety texture of a flower, and discover its remarkable convolutions; and something of the miracle of Nature is revealed to me. Occasionally, if I am very fortunate, I place my hand gently on a small tree and feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song.

I am delighted to have the cool waters of a brook rush through my open fingers. To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.

  • The gnarled, bearded features of Homer are dear to me, for he, too, knew blindness;
  • You who can see can spend many fruitful days there, but I, with my imaginary three days of sight, could only take a hasty glimpse, and pass on;
  • Friends who are near to me I know well, because through the months and years they reveal themselves to me in all their phases; but of casual friends I have only an incomplete impression, an impression gained from handclasp, from spoken words which I take from their lips with my finger tips, or which they tap into the palm of my hand;
  • I am, however, sure that if you actually faced that fate your eyes would open to things you had never seen before, storing up memories for the long night ahead.

To me the pageant of seasons is a thrilling and unending drama, the action of which streams through my finger tips. At times my heart cries out with longing to see all these things.

If I can get so much pleasure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight. Yet, those who have eyes apparently see little. The panorama of color and action which fills the world is taken for granted. It is human, perhaps, to appreciate little that which have and to long for that which we have not, but it is a great pity that in the world of light the gift of sight is used only as a mere convenience rather than as a means of adding fullness to life.

The professor would try to show his pupils how they could add joy to their lives by really seeing what passes unnoticed before them. He would try to awake their dormant and sluggish faculties.

II Perhaps I can best illustrate by imagining what I should most like to see if I was given the use of my eyes, say, for just three days. And while I am imagining, suppose you, too, set your mind to work on the problem of how to work on the problem of how you would use your own eyes if you had only three days to see.

Quick Answer

If with the oncoming darkness if the third night you knew that the sun would never rise for you again, how would you spend those three intervening days? What would you most want to let your gaze rest upon? I, naturally, should want most to see the things which have become dear to me through my years of darkness. You, too, would want to let your eyes rest long on the things that have become dear to you so that you could take the memory of them with you into the night that loomed before you.

If, by some miracle, I were granted three seeing days, to be followed by a relapse into darkness, I should divide the period into three parts. On the first day, I should want to see the people whose kindness and gentleness and companionship have made my life worth living.

First I should like to gaze long upon the face of my dear teacher, Mrs. Ann Sullivan Macy, who came to me when I was a child and opened the outer world to me. I should want not merely to see the outline of her face, so that I could cherish it in my memory, but to study that face and find in it the living evidence of the sympathetic tenderness if i had only three days left of sight patience with which she accomplished the difficult task of my education.

I should like to see in her eyes that strength of character which has enabled her to stand firm in the face of difficulties, and that compassion for all humanity which she has revealed to me so often. I do not know what it is to see into the heart of a friend through that 'window of the soul,' the eye.

I can only 'see' through my finger tips the outline of a face. I can detect laughter, sorrow, and many other obvious emotions. I know my friends from the feel of their faces. But I cannot really picture their personalities, of course, through the thoughts they express to me, through whatever of their actions are revealed to me.

  • Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never smell and taste again;
  • But how I should like to see with my own eyes the fascinating figure of Hamlet, or the gusty Falstaff amid colorful Elizabethan trappings!
  • Great grief always produces this effect;
  • II Perhaps I can best illustrate by imagining what I should most like to see if I was given the use of my eyes, say, for just three days.

But I am denied that deeper understanding of them which I am sure would come through sight of them, through watching their reactions to various expressed and circumstances, through noting the immediate and fleeting reactions of their eyes and countenance. Friends who are near to me I know well, because through the months and years they reveal themselves to me in all their phases; but of casual friends I have only an incomplete impression, an impression gained from handclasp, from spoken words which I take from their lips with my finger tips, or which they tap into the palm of my hand.

How much easier, how much more satisfying it is for you who can see to grasp quickly the essential qualities of another person by watching the subtleties of expression, the quiver of a muscle, the flutter of a hand. But does it ever occur to you to use your sight to see the inner nature of a friend or acquaintance?

Do not most of you seeing people grasp casually the outward features of a face and let it go at that?

  1. 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.
  2. Despite her hardship she is ever grateful for those who made everything possible. Helen is saddened that the world of Art, which she finds so fascinating "is a dark night, unexplored and unilluminated" to sighted people.
  3. I throw my eyes out of focus, so that I see no particular object but a seething kaleidoscope of color.
  4. But what three days those must have been! It is a signal token of Divine favour, if God, by the inward working of his grace, or the outward events of his providence, stops us from prosecuting or executing sinful purposes.

For instance, can you describe accurately the faces of five good friends? Some of you can, but many cannot. As an experiment, I have questioned husbands of long standing about the color of their wives' eyes, and often they express embarrassed confusion and admit that they so not know. And, incidentally, it is a chronic complaint of wives that their husbands do not notice new dresses, new hats, and changes in household arrangements.

The eyes of seeing persons soon become accustomed to the routine of their surroundings, and they actually see only the startling and spectacular. But even in viewing the most spectacular sights the eyes are lazy. Court records reveal every day how inaccurately 'eyewitnesses' see. A given event will be 'seen' in several different ways by as many witnesses.

Some see more than others, but few see everything that is within the range of their vision. Oh, the things that I should see if I had the power of sight for just three days!

The first day would be a busy one. I should call to me all my dear friends and look long into their faces, imprinting upon my mind the outward evidence of the beauty that is within them. I should let my eyes rest, too, on the face of a baby, so that I could catch a vision of the eager, innocent beauty which precedes the individuals consciousness of the conflicts which life develops.

And I should like to look into the loyal, trusting eyes of my dogs - the grave, canny little Scottie, Darkie, and the stalwart, understanding Great Dane, Helga, whose warm, tender, and playful friendships are so comforting to me. On that busy first day I should also view the small simple things of my home. I want to see the warm colors in the rugs under my feet, the pictures on the walls, the intimate trifles that transform a house into a home.

My eyes would rest respectfully on the books in raised type which I have read, but they would be more eagerly interested in the printed books which seeing people can read, for during the long night of my life the books I have read and those which have been read to me have built themselves into a great shining lighthouse, revealing to me the deepest channels of human life and the human spirit.

In the afternoon of that first seeing day, I should take a long walk in the woods and intoxicate my eyes on the beauties of the world of Nature, trying desperately to absorb in a few hours the vast splendor which is constantly unfolding itself to those who can see. On the way home from my woodland jaunt my path would lie near a farm so that I might see the patient horses ploughing in the field perhaps I should see only a tractor!

And I should pray if i had only three days left of sight the glory of a colorful sunset. When dusk had fallen, I should experience the double delight of being able to see by artificial light, which the genius of man has created to extend the power of his sight when Nature decrees darkness. In the night of that first day of sight, I should not be able to sleep, so full would be my mind of the memories of the day.

III The next day - the second day of sight - I should arise with the dawn and see the thrilling miracle by which night is transformed into day. If i had only three days left of sight should behold with awe the magnificent panorama of light with which the sun awakens the sleeping earth. This day I should devote to a hasty glimpse of the world, past and present.

What is the summary of the essay, Three days to See by Helen Keller?

I should want to see the pageant of man's progress, the kaleidoscope of the ages. How can so much compressed into one day? Through the museums, of course. Often I have visited the New York Museum of Natural History to touch with my hands many of the objects there exhibited, but I have longed to see with my eyes the condensed history of the earth and its inhabitants displayed there - animals and the races of men pictured in their native environment; gigantic carcasses of dinosaurs and mastodons which roamed the earth long before man appeared, with his tiny stature and powerful brain, to conquer the animal kingdom; realistic presentations of the processes of evolution in animals, and in the implements which man has used to fashion for himself a secure home on this planet; and a thousand and one other aspects of natural history.

I wonder how many readers of this article have viewed this panorama of the face of living things as pictured in that inspiring museum.