Friday, June 14, 2013

Harriet Beecher Stowe, born June 14, 1811

From her capacity for empathy, when as a young woman she traveled from Cincinnati over the free state border of Ohio into the slave state of Kentucky, Harriet Beecher never forgot seeing the auction block and slave women’s babies wrested from their arms.  She would be tormented by its memory. The death of her own beloved small son Charlie from cholera gave her first hand knowledge of the pain of having a child wrested from your arms. From her grief, and remembering the cries of those slave mothers, Harriett Beecher Stowe was to write her bestselling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, first published March 20, 1852.

Her vision, in part to come to terms with what lesson her God might teach by such cruelty as taking Charlie from her, was not of Christ on the cross, but of a slave being whipped.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, like Frederick Douglass’ autobiography before it, would acquaint many more Americans with the evils of slavery. It reached an even greater audience when it was adapted into a popular play. Millions of Americans would rethink slavery. Frederick Douglass held it in gratitude. William Lloyd Garrison saw it change previously hardened hearts. The Fugitive Slave Law began to crumble. Abraham Lincoln upon meeting Stowe is purported to have said, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

What I find fascinating is how one’s own pain can open up one to an other’s pain. It speaks to an analytic attitude where the therapist must grapple with dissociated parts of her/himself to enlarge the capacity to explore that of the patient’s. Our blind spots may inadvertently foreclose the transitional space into which might have been invited the unspeakable experience of the patient. An analysand of mine once asked if we might find “home” together, by which was meant a relational home, one where recognition of my pain might help us recognize his deeply ensconced pain. Easier said than done.

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