“Bless me or not, Lord, just as You please, for I’ll not beg.” Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel

Here’s what I want to do. I want to believe that these words, the ones in the title of this post, come not from the voice of Laurence’s character Hagar Shipley, but from the whispers of the writer herself, always echoing.

I want to believe it’s Margaret Laurence (nee Wemyss) from Neepawa, Manitoba springing her words from dirt, letting them soar on the wash of a milkweed pod tousled by a prairie breeze.

And I don’t hear “lord” with caps either, no, she’s shrunk it down to a sigh but the “Me” she has writ large. Some say semantics but I say hoist her up on that altar. Hagar or Margaret, hoist them both!

Hagar Shipley spoke these words in prayer, her knees bumped-rough against pine floors, leaning unsteadily against the softly quilted bedspread each night. At first by the light of a single candle and a chill; later she’d simply flick a switch. There’s a hedging-all-bets quality to this utterance and a strong woman’s pride, an instance of survival against the odds.

Hagar lived to be 90.

Laurence died at 61, from lung cancer. She decided to spare herself and her family further suffering. She committed suicide at her home in Lakefield, Ontario on January 5, 1987.

The Stone Angel opens in the frame of a cemetery and with the angel overseer. A while back I blogged about how “Rampant with Memory” comes from an early line spoken by Hagar; a reader responded to my post with the link to Laurence’s grave marker. He noted that it lacks an angel and I thought: how sad but maybe also apropos of her refusal to beg.

Why Margaret Laurence? Why today?

Because I took some time off to dust this morning, really I did, and reaching towards the highest bookshelf near my desk I unsettled a few volumes. The Stone Angel crashed on top of my head and I knew it was time to address the author’s humble burial home.


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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