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?