The Power of One Person
By Ed Delph
October 18, 2021
Allow me to share a true story about the power of one person who was willing to step into an impossible situation. In this case, it was a maid who chose to make a difference. She stepped out of her comfort zone and into the darkness of a dark situation. She acknowledged the reality but took the first step into a remedy. And the rest is history.
I've fact-checked this actual event, and it is true. So read this narrative, everyday people who are future ‘Solutionaries’ and Difference Makers, willing to engage or give to someone overlooked and ignored.
Dr. Frank Mayfield was touring Tewksbury Institute when, on his way out, he accidentally collided with an elderly floor maid. To cover the awkward moment, Dr. Mayfield started asking questions. "How long have you worked here?" "I've worked here almost since the place opened," the maid replied. "What can you tell me about the history of this place?" he asked. "I don't think I can tell you anything, but I could show you something."
With that, she took his hand and led him down to the basement under the oldest section of the building. She pointed to one of what looked like small prison cells, their iron bars rusted with age, and said, "That's the cage where they used to keep Annie Sullivan." "Who is Annie?" the doctor asked.
“Annie was a young girl who was brought in here because she was incorrigible - nobody could do anything with her. She'd bite and scream and throw her food at people. The doctors and nurses couldn't even examine her or anything. I'd see them trying, with her spitting and scratching at them.
"I was only a few years younger than her myself, and I used to think, 'I sure would hate to be locked up in a cage like that.' I wanted to help her, but I didn't have any idea what I could do. I mean, if the doctors and nurses couldn't help her, what could someone like me do?
"I didn't know what else to do, so I baked her some brownies one night after work. The next day I brought them in. I walked carefully to her cage and said, 'Annie, I baked these brownies just for you. I'll put them right here on the floor, and you can come and get them if you want.'
"Then I got out of there as fast as I could because I was afraid she might throw them at me. But she didn't. She took the brownies and ate them. After that, she was a bit nicer to me when I was around. Sometimes I'd talk to her. Once, I even got her laughing.
“One of the nurses noticed this, and she told the doctor. They asked me if I'd help them with Annie. I said I would if I could. So, that's how it came about that every time they wanted to see Annie or examine her, I went into the cage first and explained why they were coming in. My explanation calmed her down, and I held her hand to reassure her. As a result of this, they discovered that Annie was almost blind.”
After working with her for about a year - and it was tough sledding with Annie - the Perkins Institute for the Blind opened its doors. They were able to help her, and she went on to study, and she then became a teacher herself.
"Annie came back to the Tewksbury Institute to visit and see what she could do to help. At first, the Director didn't say anything, but then he thought about a letter he'd just received. A man had written to him about his daughter. She was unruly - almost like an animal. She was blind and deaf as well as 'deranged.' He was at his wit's end, but he didn't want to put her in an asylum. So, he wrote the Institute to ask if they knew anyone who would come to his house and work with his daughter.
"And that is how Annie Sullivan became the lifelong companion of Helen Keller. When Helen Keller received the Nobel Prize, she was asked who had the most significant impact on her life. Helen then said, ‘Annie Sullivan.’
"Then Annie said, ‘No, Helen. The woman who had the greatest influence on both our lives was a floor maid at the Tewksbury Institute.’
What the unknown maid did to change two women’s worlds and the world as a whole is truly inspiring.
Jesus engaged those overlooked and ignored people because He cared. In Mathew 25, Jesus was talking to God's people. He said to them, “Enter you who are blessed and take what is in God's Kingdom.” Then Jesus explained why they could partake of this Kingdom. “I was hungry, and you feed me; I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink; I was homeless, and you gave me a room; I was shivering, and you gave me clothes; I was sick, and you stopped to visit; I was in prison, and you came to me.”
The people asked Jesus, “When did we do those things to you?” Jesus replied, “When you did one of these things to someone overlooked and ignored, that was me – you did it to me.”
Perhaps you are a difference-maker and history-maker presently or going to be like the compassionate maid. My advice is to make some brownies and get going because the hungry person you see and Jesus are hungry. Remember, a great place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm.
Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com