My mother handed me this book the last time I visited. She rushed back to the room she shared with my father and came back holding this small paperback. As she handed me the book she told me she was around my age now (twenty-six) the first time she read it and urged me to do the same. Now I’m reading it; a “Gift from the Sea”, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
It’s not a book I imagine many people have read and probably only a handful my age. The surprising thing is I can’t imagine anyone finding its words irrelevant. Lindbergh wrote this short book back in 1955, a time when women were relegated to the household and the children; realms that were as familiar as an old rag doll. A time we all look back on as a moment when women truly began to question putting the rag dolls in the attic.
For “the Feminists” Lindbergh writes “it was enough to demand the privileges” we deserved, but they “left open” to all women “the exploration of their use.” The struggle to grow up and discover one’s self, to find our place in the world is a struggle we face as individuals. Lindbergh displays her own thoughts as an example of the complex and ongoing process of discovering and holding onto one’s self within the rolling tide.
Reading this book, I felt comforted, like a mother’s hug the first time you were dumped, or turned down for a job, or just struggled to pay for water, electricity and chocolate all at the same time. Somehow knowing someone else went through it too makes all the difference in how you look at it.
“Gift from the Sea” contains, for me, all that the search of oneself entails. While her streams of questions can become overtaxing, it displays the questioning of someone trying to find answers. Sometimes standing in high tide is tiring, but as its ebb reveals a few shells we might be glad we stayed. She writes how both men and women seem to be “grappling with essentially the same questions”; the same things I myself and many of my friends are working through. Lindbergh compares a few shells found on the beach to possible answers. The simplicity of the channeled whelk, the serenity of a self-contained individual moon shell, the beauty and strength of relationships represented in double sunrise and oyster shells and the rare Argonauta shell, capable of advancing through the tide.
Lindbergh writes about a “life of multiplicity” we all seem to be living. This life, based on “ever-widening circles of contact and communication” could very well be an exact reference to our Facebook/Instagram driven life today. The demands of people known and unknown, the demands of time and attention, all this, Lindbergh accurately accesses, can leave you feeling “fragmented”. It is in our nature, as human beings to give. Give away our opinions, our time, our space, ourselves. We “must be replenished too” and the only way to find our self, she suggests, is through some solitude.
We reject the idea of solitude as a lack of people or things in one’s life. As if seclusion meant we were unpopular or uninteresting. Lindbergh aptly calls our dislike of solitude a remembrance of an “early wallflower panic”, to be gotten over or denied. Time alone to spend completely selfishly, without the voices of others impeding the voice within ourselves is invaluable. Time alone means time to process, refocus, and find strength. Lindbergh suggests we “must find [our] true center alone”. That is the best gift, in my opinion; the idea of solitude as a “justifiable need”.
This is Lindbergh’s contribution to the conversation surrounding us. The conversation we have between friends and relatives on how best to be. “Simplicity-Solitude-Intermittency” she writes at the end of her book. The ability to be selective, be alone, and understand that life has a tide (and be able to change with it) might just eventually bring happiness. At least that seems to be Lindbergh’s best advice.
It’s hard not to talk about “Gift from the Sea” like a self-help book, and I suppose in some ways, it is. However, my experience with the book was different. Perhaps it was simply the act of taking this book form my mother’s hands that made it feel like a baton being passed. Information handed down. A conversation she wanted to have, but didn’t know how to start with a daughter who’s seeking to find her own way in the world.