Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gift From The Sea

I have just finished reading 'Gift From The Sea', by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Published in 1955, this book is timeless in its message of finding balance in the many roles of being a woman.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a woman very much ahead of her time. Born in 1906, and receiving a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Smith College in 1928, she was a much acclaimed writer. Not only that, but she was the first American woman to earn a first class glider pilot's licence in 1930.
She married her famous Aviator husband, Charles Lindbergh in 1929 and stayed married for 45 years until Charles' death in 1974. Together, they traveled the world, and had 6 children.
Tragically, their first born, Charles Jr. was kidnapped and murdered when he was only 20 months old. The notoriety and publicity caused them to flee America and live oversees in England and France until 1938, after which they established a permanent home on the Connecticut coast. 
When Ann wrote 'Gift From The Sea', she was on a rare solitary vacation to an Atlantic island, away from her busy life as Wife and Mother, reflecting on her many roles as a woman, and searching for simplicity and balance.

Beautiful art card given to me by a special friend

 This is where her book begins, on the beach during that island retreat.
She finds shells, (gifts from the sea) and each chapter is an analogy of how the characteristics of the shells she finds correspond to the various stages of a woman's life.

Right away we find a timeless message. She writes that women are like the hub of a wheel, 'with interests and duties raying out, the patterns of our lives essentially circular.' That 'we must be open to all points of the compass, with husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider's web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes.'

She goes on to say, 'The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.'

'Seaside Sampler' knotted years ago by me with knots learned from my sea-faring Grandfather.

She then goes on to speak of how we as women are always spilling ourselves away. We give and give until we find that our 'cup that runneth over', comes up empty, drained away. That we must find a way to replenish our pitchers.

We must find the time to honor our lives, our creativity, our core essence by finding solitude to reflect inward.

She spins her story so lyrically, so beautifully, so empathically, you feel like someone finally understands.

Hand painted tray with decoupaged copy of a watercolor harbor, painted by my Mother as a school girl.

With grace and sensitivity, she writes of the need for women to validate themselves by taking time to step back, look inward, and find our core selves once more.

She writes, 'When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others, too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.'

Straw bag with embroidered seascape, part of my straw bag collection
She speaks of how women have come so far in achieving equality and rights, but to be wary of stretching ourselves so far that we lose our balance, we lose our focus. We cannot be all things to all people. We must take time for solitude, creativity, inward reflection. To give ourselves permission. To learn the fine art of incorporating the things we love into our busy lives.

Something that she speaks of is how we as women should strive to retain autonomy, how we get caught up in our relationships, losing ourselves in the process. Of how important it is to keep in touch with our true essence.
I remember reading once, that an easy way to do this is to think of how you felt when you were 11 years old. A time in our lives when we were fully ourselves, old enough to have formed our personality, to find our likes and dislikes, but young enough to not be entangled in relationships, work, and all of the constraints of adulthood.
Try to remember what that felt like. Free. Joyful. Living in the Moment.

Seascape found in vintage shop

We need to remember how it felt to just be us. Not part of a marriage. Not a mother. Just our very own selves. Too often we forget what that feels like, we become absorbed and distracted with our partner,  with our children, with the day to day routine of life.

We forget the truth of Saint-Exupery's line: ' Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.'

Love does not remain stagnant, romantic love turns to devotion, to companionship woven with memories, commonalities, shared experience.

And then she states, 'The tide of life recedes.' The house begins to empty, the children go away to live lives of their own. This is when it is tempting to try and recapture that early romance of the beginning relationship. But one has outgrown that rigidly symmetrical shell. One cannot go back, only forward to a 'time of shedding shells, shedding ambition, shedding ego.'

Middle age can be a time of shedding armor, being completely oneself.
If one has spent time finding your true essence , every time of life presents an opportunity.  Not dependent upon any other to validate yourself, you can become a 'World to oneself'.

Original painting by unknown California artist

She shares a quote by the German poet Rilke - 'A complete sharing between two people is an impossibility and whenever it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a mutual agreement which robs either one member or both of his fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that, even between the closest human beings, infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!'

And while we as women are always concerned with the world at large, the concerns of society, the worries of what the future will bring, we must remember the value of the here and now. This lovely treasure of a book reminds us that we as women are the ones who never forget each family member's uniqueness, we hold witness to the 'spontaneity of now, the vividness of here.' These small moments make up the whole, 'like drops that make up a stream'. She says that when we center ourselves, our circle of life extends outward from a stable hub.

I couldn't agree more.


  1. Good Morning Karen,
    Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful post. I read this book more than thirty years ago. But I see now that it is time to read it again to absorb some of the wisdom that sailed right past me back then!

  2. Good Morning to you, Maureen! This is also my 'second reading' and like you, read it years ago. I found so much that I had missed. Thank you for visiting me! xx

  3. I too read this book many years ago when I was probably too young to appreciate the wisdom. Maybe it's time to read it again.

    I really enjoyed seeing your collection of ocean related items. The Seaside Sampler is gorgeous.

  4. What a superb post, thank you Karen. Three years ago I visited a friend of my late grandmother, and saw 'Gifts of the Sea' on her shelf. I remarked that my Granny had loved that book, and she very generously sent it to me once I was back home. I read it last year for the first time and found so much wisdom there. Thank you for reminding me of the depth of the book. As I read, I kept wondering how she had ever recovered from the death of her son, but she really was an amazing woman and I would say a very humble woman as well.

    I love all your sea-things, but especially your knotted hanging and also the tray with the painting by your mother.

  5. I haven't read this one but think that I will. I love your sea collection - how it illustrates the points that you make in your review. <3


Thank you for stopping by! Your comments are important to me and are very much appreciated. xx Karen

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