Gift from the Sea


 What seems like ages ago now, I opened my mailbox to find a package from a friend. Inside was a beautiful little blue book titled Gift from the Sea and a note from my friend saying that she thought I might like to look through this book she found at a garage sale. At the time I was taken by the beauty of this little book and by the authors name, Anne Morrow Lindbergh- later, when I finally got around to reading it, I was struck by the beauty and truth of Lindbergh's words. 

       The Author

     Published in 1955, Gift from the Sea was the fifth published work penned by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Anne, as you may have guessed, was the wife of legendary aviator, Charles Lindbergh, and the mother of the infamous Lindbergh baby.
     Born in New Jersey in 1906, Anne was one of four children born to a diplomat father and a poet/teacher mother. Anne attended Smith College, from which she graduated in 1928. Charles Lindbergh and Anne wed in 1929 and went on to have 6 children, their first, Charles, was kidnapped and murdered in 1932.
     Both Anne and her husband shared a passion for aviation, in fact Anne was the first American woman to hold a glider's pilot license. Together the Lindbergh's flew between continents and were the first to fly from Africa to South America. The couple also explored polar routes to Asia and Europe from North America.
    While the couple live through out Europe and North America, Gift from the Sea reflects on time spent at the sea and was written during a vacation to Captiva, Florida in the early 1950s.

The Book

           Gift from the Sea is often described as inspirational, which is why it sat, unread, on my bookshelf for so long. How the book should really be describe is as inspired. The pages of Gift from the Sea simply ooze with beautiful metaphors and similes drawing parallels between life and the treasures that wash up on shore. The book, while highly applicable to the lives of mid-century women, is, in my opinion, still highly relatable and relevant. If nothing else, the book is beautifully written, incredibly intelligent and oh so lovely to read. Each chapter of the book is named for a gift from the sea- a shell on which Lindbergh muses and ponders the shells shape, its former inhabitant and makes incredible connections to her own life grappling with themes of love, life, simplicity and solitude. 

Here are some excerpts from Gift from the Sea:

The Beach
"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. 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."

Channeled Whelk
"But his shell — it is simple; it is bare, it is beautiful. Small, only the size of my thumb, its architecture is perfect, down to the finest detail. Its shape, swelling like a pear in the center, winds in a gentle spiral to the pointed apex. Its color, dull gold, is whitened by a wash of salt from the sea. Each whorl, each faint knob, each criss-cross vein in its egg-shell texture, is as clearly defined as on the day of creation. My eye follows with delight the outer circumference of that diminutive winding staircase up which this tenant used to travel.

My shell is not like this, I think. How untidy it has become! Blurred with moss, knobby with barnacles, its shape is hardly recognizable any more. Surely, it had a shape once. It has a shape still in my mind. What is the shape of my life?"

Moon Shell
"We are all, in the last analysis, alone. And this basic state of solitude is not something we have any choice about. It is, as the poet Rilke says, "not something that one can take or leave. We are solitary. We may delude ourselves and act as though this were not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realize that we are so, yes, even to begin by assuming it. Naturally," he goes on to say, "we will turn giddy."

Naturally. How one hates to think of oneself as alone. How one avoids it. It seems to imply rejection or unpopularity. An early wallflower panic still clings to the world. One will be left, one fears, sitting in a straight-backed chair alone, while the popular girls are already chosen and spinning around the dance floor with their hot-palmed partners. We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends and movies should fail, there is still the radio or the television to fill up the void. Women, who used to complain of loneliness, need never be alone any more. We can do our housework with soap-opera heroes at our side. Even day-dreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something of oneself and it fed the inner life. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone."

"We all wish to be loved alone. "Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me," runs the old popular song. Perhaps, as Auden says in his poem, this is a fundamental error in mankind. For the error bred in the bone/Of each woman and each man/Craves what it cannot have./Not universal love/But to be loved alone.

Is it such a sin? In discussing this verse with an Indian philosopher, I had an illuminating answer: "It is all right to wish to be loved alone," he said, "mutuality is the essence of love. There cannot be others in mutuality. It is only in the time sense that it is wrong. It is when we desire continuity of being loved alone that we go wrong." For not only do we insist on believing romantically in the "one-and-only" — the one-and-only love, the one-and-only mate, the one-and-only mother, the one-and-only security — we wiish the "one-and-only" to be permanent, ever-present and continuous. The desire for continuity of being-loved-alone seems to me "the error bred in the bone" of man. For there is no "one-and-only," as a friend of mine once said in a similar discussion, 'there are just one-and-only moments.' "

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