Chapter 1: My Childhood
The Aftermath of the Accident
I gained strength very slowly. As I became able to join in play with my young friends, I was forced to learn the bitter lesson that our personal appearance often makes a difference in the treatment we receive from our companions. At the time of my misfortune my father was absent in Georgia. When he returned, he embraced my brother and sisters, and then inquired for me. I, timidly shrinking back, was pointed out by my mother, but my own father did not recognize me. It was hard for him to believe that I was his little Ellen, whom he had left only a few months before a healthy, happy child. This cut my feelings deeply, but I tried to appear cheerful, though my heart seemed breaking.
The relief of tears was denied me. I could not weep readily, as could my twin sister; though my heart was heavy, and ached as if it were breaking, I could not shed a tear. I often felt that it would greatly relieve me to weep away my sorrow. Sometimes the kindly sympathy of friends banished my gloom and removed, for a time, the leaden weight that oppressed my heart. How vain and empty seemed the pleasures of earth to me then! how changeable the friendships of my young companions! Yet these little schoolmates were not unlike a majority of the great world's people. A pretty face, a handsome dress, attracts them; but let misfortune take these away, and the fragile friendship grows cold or is broken. But when I turned to my Saviour, He comforted me. I sought the Lord earnestly in my trouble, and received consolation. I felt assured that Jesus loved even me.
My health seemed to be hopelessly impaired. For two years I could not breathe through my nose, and was able to attend school but little. It seemed impossible for me to study and to retain what I learned. The same girl who was the cause of my misfortune was appointed monitor by our teacher, and it was among her duties to assist me in my writing and other lessons. She always seemed sincerely sorry for the great injury she had done me, although I was careful not to remind her of it. She was tender and patient with me, and seemed sad and thoughtful as she saw me laboring under serious disadvantages to get an education.
My nervous system was prostrated, and my hand trembled so that I made but little progress in writing, and could get no further than the simple copies in coarse hand. As I endeavored to bend my mind to my studies, the letters on the page would run together, great drops of perspiration would stand upon my brow, and a faintness and dizziness would seize me. I had a bad cough, and my whole system seemed debilitated. My teachers advised me to leave school and not pursue my studies further till my health should improve. It was the hardest struggle of my young life to yield to my feebleness and decide that I must leave my studies and give up the hope of gaining an education.
Three years later I made another trial to obtain an education. But when I attempted to resume my studies, my health rapidly failed, and it became apparent that if I remained in school, it would be at the expense of my life. I did not attend school after I was twelve years old.
My ambition to become a scholar had been very great, and when I pondered over my disappointed hopes, and the thought that I was to be an invalid for life, I was unreconciled to my lot and at times murmured against the providence of God in thus afflicting me. Had I opened my mind to my mother, she might have instructed, soothed, and encouraged me; but I concealed my troubled feelings from my family and friends, fearing that they could not understand me. The happy confidence in my Saviour's love that I had enjoyed during my illness was gone. My prospect of worldly enjoyment was blighted, and heaven seemed closed against me.
(Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pp. 9-11)