Mark Pickup


October 20, 2014

Helen Keller was deaf and blind from early childhood, yet she became one of the great humanitarians of the 20th century. When news of her death in 1968 came over the radio, I remember my father said, "There goes a great person."

I was 15 years old at the time and too self-absorbed to understand. Only much later, in my own disability, did I begin to understand what my father meant.

Helen Keller wrote: "When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door we do not see the one that has opened for us."

Have you or a loved one acquired a disability or incurable condition? Do you think your happiness and the world you knew are lost because of this? It may appear that way; the door to your former life may have closed with you on the wrong side of it. As Keller said, another door opens, but it requires that we look for it.


The new door may take you in a different direction involving new realities. The old self is gone but a new self can emerge if you are open to it. That new self may be as vital and vibrant as the old self; but you must be open to exploring possibilities that may involve a change in self-identity and how you fit into the world.

Understand that how the world relates to you will likely change. How you relate to the world is up to you. There will be temptation to become bitter but resist it and turn to Christ for understanding. He has allowed the circumstances you face for a reason.

Nothing slips by God's attention. Bishop Fulton Sheen said, "Sickness is seen by faith as coming from God, either to detach us from the spirit of the world or to give us the chance to offer our sufferings in union with Christ's for the salvation of the world." Suffering has purpose and meaning.

God may deliver you from your anguish or abide with you through it. What seems like a catastrophe to you may actually be intended to mature your spiritual character and prepare you for the world to come. Be open to God's leading.

Helen Keller also wrote these insightful words: "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience and trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved."

Again, I can attest to the wisdom of her words. I have been able to serve God more from my wheelchair than I ever did able-bodied. It was only when I finally surrendered my will to him that he could use me for his purposes.


In St. Paul's letter to the Romans he says, "We know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Therein lies a consolation brought to the suffering Christian by the Holy Spirit. God's love is apparent even in pain. We can encounter God's peace that passes human understanding (see Philippians 4.7). It is inexplicable.

The world does not understand this peace; the world's answer to suffering is suicide. It will even assist in the suicidal process with misguided notions of compassion or brutish ideas of personal autonomy that deny the beauty of human interdependence.

Helen Keller addressed human interdependence in the midst of anguish: "When it seems that our sorrow is too great to be borne, let us think of the great family of the heavy-hearted into which our grief has given us entrance, and inevitably, we will feel about us, their arms and their understanding."


Human interdependence is most noble with Christ at its centre. In suffering, the Christian can find unity with Christ and he is the greatest friend of those with heavy or broken hearts.

Jesus said: "Come to me, all you that are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11.28-29).

If you face disability or chronic illness, do not give up on life. God has a plan for you. Seek it. Pray. Find your purpose in accordance with the Bible and our great Catholic faith. Go through the new door to find a world of possibilities. God loves you.