Photo from “Adding Bliss”, drawing by Don Phillips, Jr.
I love to read!
Auntie Em has been a great reader for many years- and I’m so happy that all my children are, too. When they were preschoolers, the library was our excitement for the week! They all checked out the maximum number allowed- I think it was 7– and oh boy, did we read.
(Indulge me a mom-story here– When one of the Harry Potter books came out, Sis, who was in college at the time, pre-bought it, got the wristband, and went to the bookstore to await the midnight release. She stayed up and read it through, then The Boy read it through, then handed it to Sunshine, and she read it through! They are all much faster readers than I am, and they can stay awake!)
Anyway- I’ve read hundreds- probably thousands- of books, mostly fiction, and mostly just for fun. Long ago I decided not to buy a book unless I wanted to reread it regularly, or it had some special significance; I’ve outgrown closets and bookshelves and had to donate to the library far too often! Now I try to borrow them from the library or somebody else, and if I can’t get what I’m looking for that way, I buy it then donate it immediately.
But several books have stood the test of time, and I come back to them again and again. One of my most visited is Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea. Written in 1955, when Anne was 49, having been married to the aviator Charles for 28 years.Just a little background about her- the Lindbergs’ first child was kidnapped and murdered as a year-old baby in 1932. Subsequently they had 4 more children. Anne was a published writer of poetry and prose, but when Gift came out, it spoke so clearly to women’s hearts, that it became a bestseller, spending 80 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and 47 of those weeks at #1! It sold 5 million copies during its first 20 years in print.
I began reading it in my “early mom” years, when I had 3 children in a little over 4 years. When the only places we went were church, the grocery store, and Walmart, life was pretty calm, but when they got in school and I went to work, the pace quickened, and my stress level skyrocketed. Gift helped me to see and appreciate the season of my life, and to give me hope that it would settle down one day! Now, with my nest empty, it seems like those other seasons just flew by.
Let me tell you just a bit about it- I hope you will borrow it or buy it this week and read it yourself! She talks about simplifying life, and how the many distractions we have can that tear us apart. (What would she think about Facebook, Twitter, streaming video, etc??)
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 lifestyle] is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads… to fragmentation… it destroys the soul.
She compares different stages of a woman’s life to different sea shells: Channeled whelk, moon shell, double-sunrise, oyster bed, and argonauta.
The Channelled whelk is simple, bare, beautiful, and deserted. Anne admits her life is “messy” and determines to live the art of “shedding; [to see] how little one can get along with.” She will ask how little, not how much, can she get along with. To ask– is it necessary?– when she is tempted to add another possession or activity.
The Moonstone represents solitude. In this chapter she discusses how women naturally “pour themselves out,” and how we must find a way to refill. For herself, she spent a week at the beach every year, but realized that that wasn’t an option for some. She used the German word zerrissenheit, which translates roughly “torn-to-pieces-hood.” When I saw this term for the first time, I felt absolutely understood! The moonstone Women must “consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today.” Here’s another metaphor that really stuck with me: a woman must be as still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of all the activities.
The Double-Sunrise represents the exclusivity of an intimate relationship, the honeymoon stage of marriage, before children, jobs, houses, and bills cloud it up. She talks about the threats to this relationship, of mothers forming other double-sunrise relationships with each child as it’s born, and husbands giving themselves over to careers. She counsels readers to deliberately take time away, alone with their spouses, whether it’s a weekend trip, or just a cup of coffee in the morning.
The Oyster Bed represents a woman’s life in the middle years of marriage, when all the children are around and the sheer volume of dishes, laundry, places to go and be, can be overwhelming. It is a shell with many small shells attached to it, like “the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life– here a sleeping porch for the children, and there a veranda for the play-pen, here a garage for the extra car, and there a shed for the bicycles.” She talks about not fighting the impending specter of aging, but embracing it, as a time of new opportunities.
The Argonauta (paper nautilus) is a cradle for argonaut eggs; they float to the surface where the young hatch and float away. It represents the freedom for personal growth in middle age, coming of age. The marital relationship that has evolved through the ecstasy of the Double Sunrise and the chaos of the Oyster Bed now matures into the beautiful, free Argonauta:
… There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand, only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back– it does not matter which, Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.
In the “Gift from the Sea Re-Opened” section at the end of the book, Anne expresses surprise at how relevant the book seems to be to women still, even though the world had “totally changed in the twenty years” since the book’s publication! Now, FIFTY-SEVEN years later, the world has changed even more, but people haven’t. Women still pour themselves out for our husbands, children, and careers. Life is still messy. And we still have to learn how to navigate through the seasons of our lives.