Last week, my daughter was working on an application for a school program. She had been given a list of attributes and was asked to write an essay about the two that she felt were her strongest and weakest. Interestingly, she chose “reflective” as her weakest attribute. She said that although she knows how helpful it is to take a step back and think about the big picture every once in a while, she’s usually too busy with everyday concerns to do it. Sound familiar?
Thank goodness Anne Morrow Lindbergh was able to carve out some reflective time in the early 1950’s, when she took a break from her day job as wife of Charles Lindbergh and mother of five children and escaped to Captiva Island to write Gift from the Sea. This beautifully-crafted meditation on women and the changing seasons of their lives is truly a gift to us all. Better yet, it’s the kind of gift that keeps on giving, because it is just as relevant and thought-provoking today as it was 59 years ago.
The book is a collection of essays, each inspired by a seashell that represents an important aspect of our lives. Lindbergh admires the simplicity of the channeled whelk in contrast to the clutter and distraction of everyday life. In the moon shell, she recognizes the significance of solitude and the necessity of “stilling the soul.” The double-sunrise shell evokes the closed circle of a relationship between two people. Oyster shells and the beds they form bring to mind growing families, spreading outward and putting down roots. With the argonauta, Lindbergh ventures into what was then uncharted territory for her – the freedom of middle age and the opportunity it might afford to fully understand oneself.
Each essay is fashioned with exquisite care, and the reader can imagine Lindbergh patiently honing and refining each sentence in much the same way that the sea and sand might polish a shell. The results have a pure, distilled beauty that is both intelligent and poetic.
Most surprising for me was the realization that, despite all the changes in women’s lives since the 1950’s, there are some things that remain constant. We are still the emotional centers of our families, we are instinctively motivated to give our time and energy to others and we spend a lifetime forming and reforming our closest relationships as our families grow and change. Likewise, the distractions and complexities that we attribute to modern life were just as prevalent back then, with endless carpools, laundry, volunteer work and doctor’s appointments to juggle.
That’s why it’s so important for all of us to step away from the three ring circus of everyday life and spend time doing something that allows us to be reflective. The duration might be an hour, a day or longer, and the activity could be creative, physical or meditative. No matter – the end result is a feeling of peace, fulfillment and inner strength that allows us to jump back into the fray with renewed purpose.
In her foreword to the 50th anniversary edition of Gift from the Sea, Anne’s daughter Reeve Lindbergh writes that she reads the book at least once each year. I can’t think of a better way to introduce a little bit of reflection into my own life.