Thursday, February 11, 2010
Gift From The Sea
More than 50 years ago, in 1955, the wife of Charles Lindbergh (yes, the one who flew across the Atlantic) took a few weeks away from her family (yes, the one that had lost a baby to a tragic kidnapping 20 years earlier) and traveled to Captiva Island on the Gulf Coast of Florida. By herself. There, she contemplated her identity, her place in the world, and her role as a woman in her family. More than 50 years later, the words she penned in eight short essays still ring true when I read them today. Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea has refreshed me during these past dreary weeks, deep in winter's grips. Her images of the sunny seashore account for some of this, but it is her treatment of woman's identity that grabs and holds my attention so that I can read the whole book in one sitting.
The Gulf Coast is filled, dare I say littered, with seashells. As Anne Morrow LIndbergh collects the shells that were no doubt plentiful all around her, she relates each of them to an essential part of her psyche. Solitude, simplicity, evolution. She considers her role as a women in a nuclear family, as wife and mother, while children are young and after they have left her alone. What she consistently comes back to is that woman should relish in her own self, rejuvenate herself daily, annually, and through each season of life. Remind herself that she is an individual, and yet eternally connected to her family and her world that is always around her.
I've been to a few of those old beachside bungalows. They usually have only two or three electrical sockets in the whole structure, simply wooden furniture, maybe an old television. The sink in the kitchenette is porcelain and stained, the floor is linoleum and covered with woven polyester place rugs, and the shelves are lined with ancient bleached shells and coral. As Lindbergh writes of her seashells on her desk and ruminates what significance they hold, I can't help but imagine what calm and peace she must have felt there on the Island, sitting in her quiet cabin listening to the sea, separated from all those who knew her intimately. The ability to relax and reflect must have enabled her to find pervasive truths of her life that ring so true in my own. I must not be the only woman ever to have responded this way as a result of reading the short book; it's now being published in its 50th anniversary edition.
What I find the most remarkable about the essays is their timeless quality. Lindbergh made her trek to the sea and wrote these words before the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960s, yet the identity issues that she grapples with still ring true with me today. Who am I if I don't take the time to be still and listen to myself? What does it mean for me to be in a relationship with my spouse and with each of my children? How much am I adversely affected by the clutter of unnecessary things and ideas around me? She certainly wasn't the first one to discuss these ideas, nor the last. But she succinctly discusses each one for just long enough to get the gears in my minds turning and then curtly stops in order to let my mind continue thinking.
Maybe I'll reread the book again next winter when I need to feel warm and refreshed again.