“At whatever point one opens ‘Gift from the Sea,’ to any chapter or page, the author’s words offer a chance to breathe and to live more slowly. The book makes it possible to quiet down and rest in the present, no matter what the circumstances may be.”
Reeve Lindbergh introducing the 50th Anniversary Edition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea”
TODAY, we’re giving you fresh resources to answer the question: How can I keep up with this rapidly changing culture? Today’s answer is: Connect with other people’s lives. To make this point, we’re pleased to welcome a guest writer: Cindy La Ferle, who you may have met already in the pages of various national magazines. She’s written a special piece for us, called …
Mrs. Lindbergh’s Gift
By Cindy La Ferle
In Florida this spring, I finally made my pilgrimage to the tiny island of Captiva, where Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote “Gift from the Sea ” during a brief ocean-side sabbatical. With our only child away at college, it was the first time in years that my husband and I had flown to the Sunshine State—without plans to tour Disney World. To commemorate the visit, I bought the 50th anniversary edition of Mrs. Lindbergh’s book and a few souvenir shells from the island.
Over the years I’ve collected at least five different editions of “Gift from the Sea,” and I can’t think of a friend who hasn’t received a copy from me. First published in 1955, this slim little book spoke volumes to women on the brink of social change -– women who were primarily responsible for raising families and conflicted by the “new career opportunities” opening up to them. Using seashells to describe the various stages of a woman’s life, from early marriage to the empty nest, Mrs. Lindbergh gave voice to the ache of the feminine spirit.
Years ahead of its time, “Gift from the Sea” became a classic among inspirational best-sellers, yet its success always baffled its author. “The original astonishment remains … that a book of essays, written to work out my own problems, should have spoken to so many other women,” Mrs. Lindbergh admitted twenty years later.
A thoughtful friend suggested the book when I was in my early thirties — when everything in my small universe was spinning faster than I could keep up. I was raising a preschooler. Working as a travel magazine editor and community activist. Learning how to be a wife. And all the while attempting to make a home out of a 1940s handyman special. As much as I’d welcomed so many options and opportunities, I was always too exhausted to understand why I felt something was missing.
Mrs. Lindbergh knew how to explain my dilemma.
“There are so few empty pages in my engagement calendar,” she wrote. “Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures—an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant.”
Reading those words again nearly 20 years later, I recall the tremendous sense of relief — the real epiphany—that struck when I first read them. Like most young mothers I knew, I wanted to have it all, but didn’t realize the price I’d pay until I actually got it all. It’s not that I was ungrateful for the life I’d crafted. I loved my husband, my child, my home, my writing career.
But I desperately needed balance. Spiritual balance.
Until then, I’d assumed the contemplative life was the sole province of nuns, monks, or religious hermits. Thanks to Mrs. Lindbergh, I learned that finding time to feed my spirit was a necessity, not a luxury. And it wasn’t simply a matter of reordering my priorities in a day planner. I had to teach myself how to be still in the midst of suburban chaos—if only for a few moments between meeting deadlines and driving my carpool shift.
As Mrs. Lindbergh wrote, my real challenge was “how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life. … It is the spirit of woman that is going dry, not the mechanics that are wanting; certainly our lives are easier, freer, more open to opportunities. But these hard-won prizes are insufficient because we have not yet learned how to use them.”
On Captiva Island, I had time to revisit these issues from a different perspective. Even now, settled in midlife, I tend to overbook myself with work or social obligations. I often neglect the call of my inner spirit, and make the mistake of confusing my self-worth with my achievements. I need to be reminded, all over again, to slow down long enough to savor what I have.
Fifty years after “Gift from the Sea” was published, women are still overwhelmed by the banquet of choices available to us. Anne Morrow Lindbergh asserted that we must be the “pioneers” in the movement toward re-creating lives of grace and harmony.
I’m grateful to her for illuminating the trail ahead of us, and for her “Gift from the Sea.”
CARE TO READ MORE?
Amazon has “Gift from the Sea” in the special anniversary edition on sale now.
Cindy La Ferle’s online home, called “Home Office,” is just a click away at www.laferle.com.
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(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com)