…awareness and growth…

Anne :   I simply go on and keep doing what I’ve done and have faith that inside she’s… (pause)  that inside is waiting, like water underground.

Today, I want to look at The Miracle Worker (a 1962 drama starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke).

If you remember, I mentioned that my movie library has only two movies:  Big Fish (which I have already talked about in …trust and its release…) and The Miracle Worker. Both films are illustrative of important coaching lessons, which is why I bring them to your attention here.

What I didn’t say is that both movie selections were something of an accident.

I bought a new DVD player and needed a DVD disk to test my connections. So I went out to a store and surveyed what was available.  My only thought was to pick something that “I could enjoy over and over.”

I was in and out of the store in ten minutes; not entirely aware of how much these particular selections would come to influence my understanding of coaching.

Awareness is not just the force of attachment and desire – it is also a natural (almost magnetic) draw towards growth.  We often have a paradoxical relationship with our awareness.  Keenly interested, but with no clear rationale for why, our interest often seems inexplicable.

The paradox, of course, is that awareness is a conscious force even when it is often unconsciously directed. And what is inexplicable to us is the way awareness leads us on an unintended path of growth – without the intervention of conscious motivation.

That, in many ways, summarizes the underlying theme of The Miracle Worker and the point I wish to make:  growth is an unintended enlargement of our awareness, one that often comes as a complete surprise.

The Miracle Worker story is well-known.  Helen Keller, borne both deaf and blind, needs a teacher.  Annie Sullivan arrives from the Perkins School for the Blind, and with obvious determination and grit, she finds a way to break the barrier of Helen’s impairment.  So much for condensed summary.

The question is … why should we care?

In a world where impairment is reason enough for brutality, we care because Annie and Helen share the magnetic pull of being “necessary allies” – but allies with opposite points of view.

Helen has no idea “what” she will discover, but she longs for connection so completely that she compels everyone to help her in any way they can. Annie, on the other hand, knows completely what Helen must discover, but she has no idea if she can actually do it, nor can she tell if Helen’s instinct for growth will lead her to the insights she needs.

In a very real way, Annie is the only protection Helen has between a future life of abandonment and degradation and a possible life of caring, human contact.  From the moment the play opens, Helen is on precipice of wrenching isolation and despair, and, consciously, she is unaware of that fact.  Her deaf-blind innocence is not merely symbolic, it stands as a moral metaphor for human growth in general.  In our groping efforts to make a future for ourselves, we must embody a logic greater than what we can determine and we can do that only by learning how to depend on one another.

The last scene, of course, is stunning.  In the face of comfortable old habits which Helen wants to return to, she finds what she needs most and then …. her entire life is transformed.  With water splashing over her hands, she finds that singular shift in awareness that allows finger spelling to actually mean something. Growth happens because that unconscious instinct for growth is waiting inside, and once the necessity of that miracle (her miracle) is finally pulled up – it transforms our collective future as well.  We are forever changed because of what Helen and Annie accomplished together.

There is something in everyone that magnetically puts us on our path of growth. Attend to it… listen for it… but most of all trust it.  The inexplicable always has its reason.

Thanks for listening!


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