The world, and I not in it


“They can dump me in a ten-acre field, for all I care, and not waste a single cent on a box of flowers, nor a single  breath on prayers to ferry my soul, for I’ll be dead as mackerel.  Hard to imagine a world and I not in it.  Will everything stop when I do? Stupid old baggage, who do you think you are? Hagar.  There’s no one like me in this world.”
Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel

These are a few of the observations of Hagar Shipley, the ninety-year-old protagonist of Margaret Laurence’s magnificent 1964 novel The Stone Angel, a novel I first read when I was a grade 12 student in 1988, and which I most recently read this summer.  To say anything sufficient about this novel would take thousands of words spanning dozens of pages, so I will limit myself to one observation, which came when I read the above quoted passage, which occurs near the end of the book (which is also near the end of Hagar’s life).  My observation is this:

Human beings are continually imagining themselves.

In a sense, this is one way we could describe consciousness, as the process (to say nothing of the ability) of continually imagining oneself.  We can scarcely do otherwise.  It follows that as a teacher I have a sacred mission: to help students imagine themselves correctly, truthfully, meaningfully.  Also to help them imagine the world with them not in it–for one day we all will be gone, yet those who remain behind (our children, our grandchildren, our descendants) are of priceless importance.  Oddly enough, Hagar’s words remind me of a supremely interesting film I saw this summer on the subject of (among other things) climate change, Earth 2100.  If we are to grow as human beings, then we have to continually imagine ourselves.  But if we are to be as human as possible, then we have to go beyond ourselves to imagine the world without us, the world–in a sense, the legacy–that we are leaving behind.

Perhaps I could sum it up like this: A teacher is one who helps students imagine themselves in a way that allows them to understand their role as legacy builders.