I have to stuff marked-up (red inked, blue inked, yellow highlighted, and penciled) page chunks back whenever I pick it up. I’ve loved well my Twentieth Anniversary paperback edition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea with its bent and faded covers. It’s a “vintage book” with an original copyright of 1955, but her words are timeless.
Lindbergh’s life was full of abrupt changes–including the kidnapping and murder of her 20-month-old son in 1932. The home he was taken from was only 10 minutes from where we used to live with our horses outside Flemington, N.J. The “trial of the century” took place at the Union Hotel. Isn’t it funny how connected one can feel to a person when you’ve shared the same space though in a different time?
In this little book, Lindbergh shares insights into the stages of a woman’s life through the shells she finds in the sand. A New York Times review described the book “like a shell itself in its small and perfect form . . . it tells of light and life and love and the security that lies at the heart.”
Twenty years later, Lindbergh wrote that her “chief sensation” from looking back at her book was “astonishment” that her words still resonated. And now, even 64 years later (!), they still do.
Here are some of her “first words.”
From Chapter I: “The Beach”
The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think. I should have remembered that from other years. Too warm, too damp, too soft for any real metal discipline or sharp flights of spirit. One never learns. Hopefully, one caries down the faded straw bag, lumpy with books, clean paper, long over-due unanswered letters, freshly sharpened pencils, lists, and good intentions. The books remain unread, the pencils break their points, and the pads rest smooth and unblemished as the cloudless sky. No reading, no writing, no thoughts even–at least, not at first.
At first, the tired body takes over completely . . . One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today’s tides of all yesterday’s scribblings.
And then, some morning in the second week, the mind wakes, comes to life again. Not in a city sense–no–but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach. One never knows what chance treasures these easy unconscious rollers may toss up, on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind; what perfectly rounded stone, what rare shell from the ocean floor. Perhaps a channelled whelk, a moon shell, or even an argonaut.
But it must not be sought for or–heaven forbid!–dug for . . . The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient . . . Patience, patience, patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach–waiting for a gift from the sea.
From Chapter VII (the last chapter): The Beach at My Back
I pick up my sisal bag. The sand slips softly under my feet. The time for reflection is almost over.
The search for outward simplicity, for inner integrity, for fuller relationship–is this not a limited outlook? Of course it is, in one sense. Today a kind of planetal point of view has burst upon mankind. The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations.
But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print; and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The inter-relatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather–for I believe the heart is infinite–modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry . . . My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds . . . we have extended our circle throughout space and time.
Are you startled by that last paragraph
in this day of instant news and social media?
Have you read Gift from the Sea?
If so, what did you like best about it?
Carol J. Garvin says
Great words. And when it comes to “modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry . . . My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds,” I am reminded that it’s a good thing we don’t have to carry this load alone. (Isaiah 41:10) 🙂
Sandra Heska King says
Exactly. Especially now that the whole world is our neighbor.
Patricia Hunter says
I have that very same edition. The pages have yellowed significantly, coffee stains dot many of the pages, and small grains of sand remain stuck in the spine. I’ve given away, donated, many of my books over the years, but never considered parting with this one.
I laugh at her description of her intentions when she escapes to the sea, because it’s so me. I pack books to read and notebooks to write in because that’s what I do, but I’m too enchanted with just being present, that I seldom open them up.
Anne would be shocked to see just how extended our circles would become. I realized some time ago that my “frame” can’t carry all the burdens, so I’ve been drawing my circles smaller in recent years. Just yesterday I was thinking about how fragmented we can become by all the needs we become aware of; and while I don’t think we need to bury our heads in the sand, I think most of us have to ask the Lord to direct us individually and help us focus on the particular need(s) he wants each of to speak to.
Sandra Heska King says
I always stake a stack, too. But nothing gets done.
And “our neighbor” could be on the other side of the world and 4 bazillion needs within a square mile. It’s overwhelming most of the time. And yes, we need to focus on our own call and not “steal” someone else’s.
But it’s so hard.
Martha J Orlando says
Yes, Sandra, that last paragraph startled me deeply. Reading Lindbergh’s words here was akin to reading prophecy in the Old Testament.
No, ashamed to say, I have not read this gem of a book, but it’s now on my list.
Sandra Heska King says
You won’t be sorry, Martha. It’s a “must read.”
Diane Bailey says
I haven’t read a blog in so, very long. And yours has been worth the time to stop and ponder. Gift from the sea is not a book I have read and I believe I will be acquiring it soon. Thank you for sharing. What caught me was “the sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy or impatient. …”. So true of life. One must wait, with joyfully expectation… treasure will come.
Sandra Heska King says
Oh, it’s so good to “see” you Diane. I miss you. I know you will love this book. It’s short, and each chapter is worth a mulling on its own.