Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Times That Try Men's Souls

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. (The Crisis, Thomas Paine, 1776)
These words, penned by Thomas Paine during the depths of the American Revolutionary War, became the battle cry for that handful of Patriots determined never, no matter what the cost, to give in. General George Washington, who every American child has been taught to revere, had them read to his troops for inspiration as they stood, sick, poor, ill-clad, and bare-footed in the cold that December night along the Delaware River. They stirred the minds and hearts of those soldiers in that hour, sold some 100,000 copies across the British colonies, and then lived on to inspire thousands of people for hundreds of years.

How often have we quoted the words of documents, speeches, or even dramas and books, and yet not stopped to think about that moment in time when those words reached the page? I sit here typing on my laptop wondering who will read this very missive. Did Thomas Paine in that moment think the same thought? We have taken him and risen him up to the ranks of those dubbed our "Founding Fathers", yet in his mind things I'm sure were not so settled.

What were they, these Patriots, but ordinary fathers, sons, farmers, shopkeepers? Thomas Paine himself was a corset-maker. Imagine that! A corset-maker! He was also a tax collector for a time in England. His first wife passed away giving birth, along with their child, his second wife and he divorced. He himself all but died in the trip over the ocean when the water on board the ship was discovered to be bad and everyone came down with typhus. Benjamin Franklin's own doctor nursed him back to health over a period of six weeks. What do we really know of his life, his beliefs, or his thoughts? Yet, still those words he penned in that hour live on.

How long did he sit and ponder over exactly how he wanted his pamphlet to read? I told my mother the other day, I cannot write until God gives me the words. Often, I start out with an idea, which rambles around in my head for days unclear, until I finally begin to type it. Sometimes the examples come to me only as they are set down on the page. One thing I have learned is that writing cannot be done if the inspiration is not there. If you are a writer, you will understand that statement. Some things cannot be forced. When was that moment then when Paine heard those first sentences and just knew it was what he needed to say?

First printing

In reading the book "To Try Men's Souls" by Newt Gingrich and William R. Fortschen (which I have not completed yet) chapter four tackled this very scenario. I wish everyone could read just that one portion of that chapter, if nothing else, and take the time to think about it. Their version could be the truth, or some other circumstance could have happened. As a writer, I saw it though, the struggle for words and then that moment when the revelation struck. There's no greater moment than that for a writer.

Who knows what words we write or thoughts we speak which will live on in the ages to come. Who knows if these few moments it took me to set down this thought, on a normal, sunny day in late April in Florida, will like Thomas Paine's do something far greater and more extraordinary. That is a marvelous thought, and it is what keeps me writing!

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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