From the Archive: Gift From the Sea

I’d forgotten how much I loved this book!  Originally posted 1 June 2012.


by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

published 1955

This book was written by the wife of Charles Lindbergh (still working on his The Spirit of St. Louis, by the way), and it is a collection of reflections from a journal she kept during a two-week stay at the seashore.  Incidentally, it was an amazing book.

She writes mainly to women, and she writes beautifully of the amazing burden and joy of true womanhood, of the yearning to care for those around us, and the constant, haunting fear that what we are doing is worthless.  Woman’s work, especially at the time of her writing in the early 50’s, was not as ‘concrete’ as traditional man’s work.  It is hard to keep the strength to carry on when you cannot always see ‘results.’

Each chapter is a seashell that she has found, and by examining the shell, Mrs. Lindbergh examines an aspect of life.  She speaks profoundly on the incredible importance of spending time in solitude, for reflection and regeneration, despite the fact that society looks askance at those of us who would prioritize time alone:

How inexplicable it seems.  Anything else [other than solitude] will b e accepted as a better excuse.  If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable.  But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange.  What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hid the fact that one practices it–like a secret vice!

This woman lived through an amazing time, seeing firsthand the emergence of women from their previously primary place in the home to a driving force first in society and then in the workplace.  And while Mrs. Lindbergh considers herself to be a feminist, and she rejoices at the new-found freedoms and opportunities available to women, she wonders whether, eventually, the price to be paid will be that of true femininity.  She warns against the potential of castrating our whole society in a sexless and dull thing–not sexless in the sense of no sexual intercourse occurring, but in the sense of women and men being regarded as the same being, interchangeable, with no inherent differences.  A fear, I may say, that has been fully realized.

She speaks at length of the beauty in spending time creating–writing, painting, baking, canning, quilting, gardening–all these things are scorned by women as ‘old-fashioned,’ yet Mrs. Lindbergh wonders if the reason that so many of her peers felt so empty and isolated was because their times of solitude, rare as they were, were full of non-creative work.  This is even more true now, in 2012.  How much time do we spend truly creating?  Instead, we use our minds as little as possible; our times of relaxation and solitude have become times of mindlessness and vice.

The answer is not in going back, in putting woman in the home and giving her the broom and the needle again.  A number of mechanical aids save us time and energy.  But neither is the answer in dissipating our time and energy in more purposeless occupations, more accumulations which supposedly simplify life but actually burden it,  more possessions which we have not time to use or appreciate, more diversions to fill up the void.

Mrs. Lindbergh then moves on to discuss relationships, using several shells to illustrate the various steps through them. She grew up in the first generation of open ‘sexual liberation,’ the 1920’s being a precursor to the even wilder 1960’s, in which affairs and extra-marital sex were somewhat lifted of the sense of taboo that had surrounded them (for good reason) in previous generations.  But this woman, who remained steadfastly married to her good and faithful man, through much turmoil and strife (including the kidnapping and murder of their first child), reveals part of the secret of longevity of relationships: contentment and the acceptance of the tides.

When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment.  It is an impossibility.  It is even a lie to pretend to.  And yet this is exactly what most of us demand.  We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships.  We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror of its ebb.  We are afraid it will never return.  We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity–in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.  The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even.  Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

Isn’t this beautiful, really?  Life is constantly changing.  Our problem is that we do not wish to flow with the change, that we refuse to see that there is beauty in every stage.  And then, because a relationship is not the ‘same’ as it was when we first felt love, we abandon it, seeking another relationship to give us that feeling again, rather than seeing that the feelings and stages that follow will be just as valid and just as beautiful as the feelings we had at the first.

Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle on the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.

I have rambled on at length about this book, but it was truly beautiful and full of lessons worth learning.  And while Mrs. Lindbergh did not dwell long on what I know to be the true fulfillment of life and contentment–God–she did touch on it lightly throughout, reminders that prayer and communion are also a foundational part of life.

I highly recommend this book.  It is not long and reads very easily.  This book is one of beauty and life, a rare gem.