Monday, August 6, 2012

Gift from the Sea, Review, part one

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a woman with a rich inner life. I found myself wondering, with such depths of imagination, expression, and contemplation, why she ever needed much else in her life beyond a pencil, a strip of beach, and a cabin. Gift from the Sea is a lovely read for those who examine life and ponder its intricacies.

While vacationing alone on the beach, Lindbergh writes brief essays on the stages of a woman's life -- although she regularly notes that her considerations may apply to men as well. The stages she enunciates and the solutions she discovers are often helpful, and yet often (I think) clouded by the influences of her time and her own life, as one would expect. The further along I went in the book, the less true it rang for me, whether because she had less wisdom or I had less understanding, I do not know.

The Channeled Welk says "Simplify."
Lindbergh chooses a few seashells and gives a significance to each. She begins with a shell that, to her, speaks of inner harmony, strength and balance, characteristics she longs for, indeed all women long for. She quotes Socrates: "May the outward and inward man be at one." Always, Lindbergh stresses that our outward lives either assist or damage this inner peace. "Certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others." Solitary life on the beach for two weeks fosters great harmony; busy life in New York City does not. The Channeled Welk is a simple shell, and Lindbergh encourages us first to choose a simple life, to rid our lives of any unnecessary distractions. (I had to laugh when I thought that the typical woman's life she describes in the book from 1955 does not include a full-time job for the woman, nor all the distractions the computer age has brought us.) "This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity .... It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul." And although the American woman is mostly free to choose a simple life, we don't. We choose more complexity and stress. We do this more now than in 1955. There is a steadiness, a sanity, that Lindbergh is studying to achieve. It never smacks of Eastern meditation or New Age ideas. It is the calm that comes to a soul well-nourished by creativity and time.  In her beach cabin, she sheds the habits, cares and anxieties of normal life. If she'd had them, I'm sure she'd have left her laptop and smart phone at home.  "How little one can get along with, and what extraordinary spiritual freedom and peace such simplification can bring." She admits, however, that such changes are only a technique, that "simplification of outward life is not enough."

The Moon Shell says "Solitude."
It's no surprise that alone-time is high on Lindbergh's list. She spends this vacation re-learning to be alone, away from "when other people had pieces of one." Solitude produces qualities that eventually enable her to give to others more wisely, not "spilling herself away" uselessly.  This is purposeful living, with great fore-thought and care about what one puts into one's life. Avoid empty, vapid distractions and wastes of time.  Be sure to take time off, alone (which mothers and housewives almost never do). "Every woman should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day." This is the difficult ideal. Lindbergh had five children at home between the ages of 10 and 23, not to mention the trials of her own and her husband Charles's international fame.  Lindbergh goes so far as claim that we should give "I'm spending a few hours alone" as an acceptable social excuse. I wish! "The problem" she states, "is how to feed the soul." For Lindbergh, for many of us, solitude indeed feeds the soul. Her argument is that all of us are, essentially, alone. We are islands ... "self-contained, whole and serene; respecting other people's solitude, not intruding on their shores ...." She disagrees with Donne, that men are not islands, that we are all connected spiritually to one another.

This is the first point at which I wondered if I agreed with her. Scripture teaches me something different from Lindbergh. I believe Scripture tells me that we have union with Christ, and therefore union with each other in the Lord. That we Christians are new-made into the Body of Christ, and no one stands alone; we depend on each other. In fact, Christianity is, economically, a system of dependency.  However ... something in her words also rings true, because there are days, moments, when I feel entirely alone. When the echo of my own thoughts in my head reminds me that no one knows who I am, except God. Except God. Because of God, I'm never alone -- even in the privacy of my mind. But perhaps Lindbergh isn't addressing that arena. Her book is about human existence with other humans. She has a deeply rich, satisfying inner life; such people often feel alone because they are excellent company for themselves.

Lindbergh harks back repeatedly to the tyrannies of a woman's life in the modern world. "With our garnered free time, we are more apt to drain our creative springs than to refill them." Yes. "Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have ... lost."  Yes. In earlier times, "their very seclusion in the home gave them time alone. Many of their duties were conducive to a quiet contemplative drawing together of the self." Yes. "Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work, even humble kinds like cooking and sewing." Yes.  "The art and craft of housework has diminished; much of the time-consuming drudgery ... remains." Yes -- we've relinquished some of the elegance of knitting, spinning, kneading, tatting. What did we keep? The more wearying tasks -- the running, hurrying, worrying, scheduling, fussing, scolding. We keep our children indoors now, all the time. What a trial that has become for us and for them! "Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself. It need not be an enormous project or a great work. But it should be something of one's own."  I like that very much.

In the next part of my review, we'll examine the three stages of a woman's life, particularly her marriage, now that Lindbergh has instructed us in the essentials of simplifying and solitude. More later!


  1. Hello MK!
    I have read GFTS in the last week and so has our daughter, Kelli. You and Debbie reminded me of this treasure of a book.
    Kelli, a busy wife and mother of three, found the first part affirming, too.
    Just last night, my sister-in-law and I were talking about introverts and extraverts and I realized how hard it is for one to understand the other. Back to Christ. Always, back to Christ. Thanks, my dear smart friend. I'd love to sit down over three or four cups of tea and speak face to face!

  2. Oh, me too, Pom!! Adam says he will make scones for us :) But you're about to leap back into school, and I guess we must live thousands of miles apart -- but close in heart :) It is so useful to read Lindbergh through the lens of the Word, and with the hindsight of studying the 20th century and the changes for women. Very fascinating read indeed :) And tell Kelli, yes, I found the earlier parts more helpful also.


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