TREASURES AND GIFTS FROM THE SEA
Rarely do I discover a book that can only be described as a treasure. I found one such treasure at a bookstore in Wellsboro Pennsylvania over Memorial Day weekend. Gift From The Sea was a bestseller when originally published in 1955. It was written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh during a brief vacation by the sea.
When I enter a book store, I ask God to lead me to a treasure. With so many books stacked tightly on the shelves, I rely on the title or the look of the book to entice me. Gift From The Sea has both an intriguing title and appearance as it is a small book wrapped in a cover of my favorite color turquoise with shiny silver letters.
The cashier confirmed my hope when she immediately smiled and said, "Oh this is a treasure!" She held the book close to her heart as she pecked the register keys and told me that her mother had given her a copy before she left home for college.
My treasure couldn't wait to be read. I was completely absorbed in it as my husband drove us home from our weekend getaway. And now I'm compelled to share this treasure and all its wisdom.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the mother of five, an acclaimed writer, and a pioneering aviator. She wrote Gift From The Sea during a brief stay on Captiva Island on Florida's gulf coast. Using shells as metaphor for how to live our lives, Lindbergh offers precious insight for women at any stage of life. "Patience, faith, openness is what the sea has to teach," she says, "simplicity, solitude, intermittency."
I love what she wrote about a woman's need for solitude: "If it is a woman's function to give, she must be replenished, too. But how? Solitude says the moon shell...every woman should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week and each day."
We live in a world that doesn't understand the need to be alone. I've often turned down invitations because I needed time alone. But as Lindbergh observes, we are considered rude, egotistical or strange when we say, "I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone." This lack of understanding forces me to create other reasons why I can't attend. I have another commitment or perhaps a dental appointment.
Fortunately, I'm aware of my need for solitude and I feel no guilt about claiming it, but some women feel unjustified in demanding alone time and don't allow themselves that "luxury". Not realizing that solitude is a necessity, women push themselves from one activity to the next until they might fall to pieces. They find themselves in a doctor's office seeking help for stress and anxiety.
Occasional alone time is a justifiable need. I've even resorted to locking myself in a room to get it. As keeper of the home, a wife and mother is constantly on call. When she's at home she's also at work. There are children to care for, meals to make, messes to clean and errands to accomplish. Women never really get a break. They go to work and then come home to more work. "By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class," says Lindbergh.
Quiet time alone is how a woman regains her strength. We shouldn't have to apologize or make excuses for it. "A woman must be still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of her activities," says Lindbergh. She discovered that even the island she lived on while writing held a lesson for living: "Unless I keep the island quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends or the world at large."
As the moon shell teaches the value of solitude, the channeled whelk shell teaches the value of simplicity. Hermit crabs claim this shell because it's simple and can be carried easily. I also prefer a simple shell. I don't need the big fancy house that many women long for. With that house comes bigger bills and more rooms to clean. If women were satisfied with simplicity, they might not need to work outside the home. They could live with less and be where their hearts long to be, at home with their children.
The first thing Lindbergh learned as a beach dweller was the art of shedding. How little one can get along with, not how much. She suggests shedding our big wardrobes for a simple selection of clothes, simplifying our homes and shedding our need for absolute tidiness. By shedding pride and not worrying about impressing others we can choose as little furniture as possible. We can even shed the false friendships we've accumulated over the years. "I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest," says Lindbergh. Imagine how we could simplify our social lives if we only accept invitations from people who truly enrich us, those with whom we can be completely honest.
Sometimes life simplifies itself. When children grow and leave home, mothers can learn much from the argonauta shell. The mother argonaut isn't fastened to her shell, it's actually a cradle for her young. When the eggs hatch and the young swim away, the mother argonaut leaves her shell and heads for the open seas to start a new life.
This ebb and flow of life is what the argonauta teaches, but intermittency is an impossible lesson to learn claims Lindbergh. "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 its ebb."
I don't deal with change well. Yet life is constant change, so why do I resist it? Like the ocean waves recede and then return to shore, our lives are forever changing and moving. But we fearfully cling to the familiar and can't accept even the natural progression that relationships must take.
How may women become depressed when their children leave the nest, believing that their life's purpose is gone when they could be celebrating the opportunity to discover new purpose, new interests and new passions.
How many women leave perfectly good relationships because that giddy spark of romantic love has grown into a deeper more dependable flame? But the passion is gone, so they search for a new partner only to find than even passion must eventually ebb toward something else, something more calm.
We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life. One of the hardest lessons I've learned is to live in the moment, to enjoy the season I'm in and stop longing for that next great hope on the horizon. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy or too impatient says Lindbergh. We shouldn't dig for treasures she claims. That shows greed, impatience and lack of faith. Then she closes that chapter with a thought that is more about faith than ambition: "One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach--waiting for a gift from the sea."