“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over and whispers, ‘Grow, Grow.’
“We are compassed about by a cloud of witnesses, whose hearts throb in sympathy with every effort and struggle, and who thrill with joy at every success. How should this thought check and rebuke every worldly feeling and unworthy purpose, and enshrine us, in the midst of a forgetful and unspiritual world, with an atmosphere of heavenly peace! They have overcome — have risen — are crowned, glorified; but still they remain to us, our assistants, our comforters, and in every hour of darkness their voice speaks to us: ‘So we grieved, so we struggled, so we fainted, so we doubted; but we have overcome, we have obtained, we have seen, we have found — and in our victory behold the certainty of thy own.'”
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet was tiny, but she packed a powerful punch when it came to her prose (for more on her amazing story, see Mighty Pens). She began her writing career creating sketches and sermonettes and went on to author Uncle Tom’s Cabin — a massive bestseller across America and around the world — with the express goal of creating an emotionally wrenching tale that would galvanize people to oppose slavery. And it did exactly that.
Above all, Harriet saw herself as a storyteller. But when she began her antislavery novel, she was a storyteller without a story: She started it without a hint of a plot. Uncle Tom’s Cabin assembled itself in images and eventually “grew like Topsy.” She intended to write three installments for a magazine and ended up writing 40.
As I think of her sitting at her desk writing in tiny spidery script (paper was expensive ), I can just see her gazing out into the distance and communing with her own personal invisible “cloud of witnesses,” whose hearts throbbed “in sympathy with every effort and struggle,” and somehow plucking inspiration from the very ether.
Who among us hasn’t experienced one or more such moments when, seemingly out of nowhere or somewhere or everywhere, a phrase or sentence or image floats whole and perfect into our consciousness? Where do these frissons of inspiration come from?
I love Harriet’s idea that all around us there are a host of “assistants” and “comforters” ready and willing to support and encourage us we struggle and doubt ourselves. Who knows what our own personal “cloud of witnesses” might be composed of? Or who may be hovering around us as we enter into communion with the page? It might be Shakespeare or Flaubert or Hemingway or an angel with a yen to wield a pen. Maybe Harriet is hovering over me right now. Why not? Write on!