Recently, a surprise came to me in the mail, unmarked, but a completely perfect gift. I later found out that my sister had sent me the book “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a book that she had mysteriously found while vacationing at my grandmother’s home. It had been my mothers and had filtered through 3 generations. This book is timeless in how it captures the common struggle of finding time to live, to pursue, to raise children, to work, to struggle, to find purpose and meaning, and to not go completely insane in the process. It is also, I was surprised to find out, written by the wife of Charles Lindbergh, not only the wife of an adventurous aviator, but also the courageous woman who went through the terrible uncertainty and loss of having her first child kidnapped and found out later, killed. I was also surprised to find out that included in their history were five other children, an escape to Europe for safety and privacy life that was interrupted by war, and a return to the states where she and her husband lived by the ocean with their children and wrote. Her pursuit for peace amongst so much chaos and tragedy is inspiring, especially when life can feel so uncertain. I think that in grief, whether that is of a loved one, a broken relationship, or of a lost dream, most all of us know that there is a good deal of looking back, but that also included in grief is a look forward, of what we might be seeking once we come out of the clouds of grief. For the Lindberghs, without knowing them personally, it seems like from their story they went to the ends of the earth in search of peace, and by finding that peace they also found wisdom. Here is a small excerpt from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s learned wisdom:
“Vague as this definition may be, I believe most people are aware of periods in their lives when they seem to be “in grace” and other periods when they feel “out of grace,” even though they may use different words to describe these states. In the first happy condition, one seems to carry all one’s tasks before one lightly, as if borne along on a great tide, and in the opposite state one can hardly tie a shoe-string. It is true that a large part of life consists in learning a technique of tying the shoe-string, whether one is in grace or not. But there are techniques of living too, there are even techniques in the search for grace. And techniques can be cultivated I have learned by some experience, by many examples, and by the writings of countless others before me, also occupied in the search, that certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others. There are, in fact, certain roads that one may follow. Simplification of life is one of them.
I mean to lead a simple life, to choose a simple shell I can carry easily–like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity. My husband and five children must make their way in the world. The life I have chosen as wife and mother entails a whole caravan of complications. I involves a house in the suburbs and either household drudgery or household help which wavers between scarcity and non-existence for most of us. It involves food and shelter, meals, planning, marketing, bills, and making the ends meet in a thousand ways. It involves not only the butcher, the baker, the candlestickmaker, but countless other experts to keep my modern house with its modern “simplifications” (electricity, plumbing, refrigerator, gas-stove, oil-burner, dish-washer, radios, car and numerous other labor-saving devices) functioning properly. It involves health, doctors, dentists, appointments, medicine, cod-liver oil, vitamins, trips to the drugstore. It involves education, spiritual, intellectual, physical; schools, school conferences, car-pools, extra trips for basketball or orchestra practice; tutoring; camps, camp equipment and transportation. It involves clothes, shopping, laundry, cleaning, mending, letting skirts down and sewing buttons on, or finding someone else to do it. It involves friends, my husband’s my children’s, my own, and endless arrangements to get together, letters, invitations, telephone calls and transportation hither and yon.
For life today in America is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals and so on. My mind reels with it. What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us. We run a tight rope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now!
This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul. And this is not only true of my life, I am forced to conclude, it is the life of millions of women in America. I stress America because today, the American woman more than any other has the privilege of choosing such a life. Woman in large parts of the civilized world has been forced back by war, by poverty, by collapse, but by sheer struggle to survive, into a smaller circle of immediate time and space, immediate family life, immediate problems of existence. The American woman is still relatively free to choose the wider life. How long she will hold this enviable and precarious position no one knows. But her particular situation has a significance far above its apparent economic, national or even sex limitations.
For the problem of the multiplicity of life not only confronts the American woman, but also the American man. And it not merely the concern of the American as such, but of our whole modern civilization, since life in America today is held up as the ideal of a large part of the rest of the world (22).
…(29) Simplification of outward life is not enough. It is merely the outside. But I am starting with the outside. I am looking at the outside of a shell, the outside of my life–the shell. The complete answer is not to be found on the outside in an outward mode of living. This is only a technique, a road to grace. The final answer, I know, is always inside.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh: A Gift From the Sea, Written in 1955, p. 18-22 & p.29