As I read the chapter, I found Dr. Esolen’s thoughts and stories convincing. Certainly he described a boyhood in which the mere opportunity to observe and collect created an appreciation of things in the world around him, even if it wasn’t quite wonder or a search for knowledge.
The boundless possibilities of the sky, the powerful, and untameable elements, the challenges of survival in the wilderness and of provision … but then …
I was brought up short by other realities I have seen. Healthy children whose lives have been spent mostly out-of-doors because indoors is dark and hot, for whom the infinite expanse of sky by day and night means nothing more than intense heat, or threatening rain, or relief from heat, for whom the stars and moon are simply there, unnoticed; for whom neither cracks in the concrete, nor weeds or swept dirt in the yard spark imagination; nor does the whine of mosquitoes, or the kraik-kraik of frogs.
So … just being out of doors is not enough to fuel the imagination. But can being confined within walls contribute to its destruction?
I thought, too, of his comments on self-reliance and the power to provide for ourselves which knowledge of the real world brings, and which the world of the ‘virtual cow’ hides from us. And I wondered about how the modern Robinson Crusoe would fare with his diet of National Geographic (if he’s lucky), but I’m not sure he’d do so badly after all. Crusoe had some of the skills he needed, but other things he had only read about, and maybe the person who has seen such things on TV is no worse off when it comes to needing some innovative ideas to survive on a desert island (Bear Grylls has his place). I suspect most of us, no matter how civilised and insulated our upbringing would surprise ourselves if we were truly called on to survive outside of suburban life, and dependence on the supermarket – I know that I have surprised myself with what I can do given the need, by contrast with what I’m used to doing.
The question that is increasingly bothering me is:
What is the vital thing that sparks the imagination?
Esolen points out that the spark of imagination is hard to destroy, yet I can introduce you to people whose lives are the epitome of unimaginative – people who have not been shut up between walls, or deprived of facts, or stories (mostly of one-dimensional heroes), or kept from growing things, and the harsh realities of animal husbandry, (to mention only the elements we have covered so far in the book) – and they are not all poor.
- Is imagination cultural?
- Is imagination hereditary?
- Is it like life which we can take away, but cannot give?
- What is this precious thing that call imagination?
This post was originally part of a discussion with a Cindy Rollins of Ordo Amoris and several other blogs and there was a significant stream of comments (all lost in my January 2013 Website meltdown). If you found this post interesting please go to Cindy’s site where you can connect with the fuller discussion.