Back to Open Waters {Gift from the Sea Intro}

He’s over the horizon by the time I rub my eyes and wave back to the ocean. My husband and the guys are on a fishing boat heading out beyond sight of land, beyond reach of cell phone towers. I grab the kids’ swimsuits from the drying rack on the balcony and pack our lunch. Out over the water, a plane sputters by dragging an airborne billboard behind it, an invitation for a meal on a nearby island.

Today, I drive us across the Sanibel toll bridge in a caravan with my sisters-in-law and all of our young children, eight little cousins so far, all age 4 and under. We stop at the closest beach, a curved arm of island that rakes in shells like the disciples with their bursting nets. I give the kids their shelling bags, but soon they drop them and go for fistfuls of shells to throw them back into the waves.

I’m in the middle of reading Gift from the Sea, and as we women fly solo on this shelling adventure with the children, I can’t help but think of Anne Morrow Lindbergh who gave up flying co-pilot with her world-famous aviator husband so that she could keep her feet on the ground as a mother raising five children. She, too, had set records in the skies, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license. Yet, she was happy to give up the turbulent life of the aviatrix to follow her heart in the work of mothering…and the work of writing.

“I think best with a pencil in my hand,” she said. She had a lot on her mind on this personal vacation on nearby Captiva back in the early 1950s. She had come with images of other women and their “porcelain perfection” and “smiling clock faces” and thought how different motherhood might be for her if she weren’t in the public eye. She had, after all, suffered through a terrible media frenzy in the midst of grief after losing her beloved firstborn son in a traumatic kidnapping and murder in 1932.

Anne looked at other women around her and envied their “smoothly ticking days”. She thought she must be one of the few women looking for her own “contemplative corner,” but over time, she discovered women of all paths and experiences who voiced similar struggles and the desire for more “creative pause” in the midst of their domestic duties.

The rest of the girls put their kids in their cars to head back, but I have the inclination to try and pull off a picnic with my two little ones. I lay a blanket over the sharp shells and pull out our sandwiches. We scarf them down, and then sink our teeth into the fruit and other incidentals. These moments are quiet with our mouths too full to talk.

But when I broach the subject of going back for nap, my toddler girl stomps toward the water and turns up her volume. I grit my teeth and catch her by the tail of her life jacket. We are in evacuation mode now. My son, in a much-appreciated moment of cooperation, flings our trash into the picnic bag. I roll the blanket up fast and grab our towels and hats and shells, then strap the burdens over my sunburned shoulders.

I trudge through sand with my flailing girl as a parcel under my arm. The struggle weighs on me. I steal a panoramic glance of the people around me and feel a bit of public glare. I have an idea why Anne Morrow Lindbergh so longed for solitude.

Yet she knew that hers was more than an individual struggle, and so she penciled down her thoughts, then held her writing to the wind and let it take wing, giving back to the people who had shared their struggles and thereby shaped her like the sea smoothes the edges of broken glass.

Back at the condo, after I’ve convinced the kids to nap, I settle in on the vinyl webbing of the balcony chair and grab my book and pencil. A breeze wafts through the screen and I sigh back.

Soon, my husband returns with news of a banquet of grouper and red snapper coming our way. And he tells me of his first catch of the day, a shark, and how he lugged it up from the water, holding firm against its thrashing. He took a good look at its thick skin and serrated teeth and its fighting spirit. After a few seconds and a mental picture, he held out the line to the fisherman’s knife. And just like that, they let it go, gave the strong creature back to open waters, where it was meant to be.

{This week’s post is based on the Introduction to Gift from the Sea featuring original words from Anne Morrow Lindbergh and a 50th anniversary reflection from the author’s daughter, Reeve Lindbergh.}

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So, what’s your take? Pick one or more of the reflection questions in the comments section and enter a reply to share your thoughts. All subscribers’ comments on the weekly Gift from the Sea posts (shared on Mondays in June and July) will be entered for a drawing at the end of our Summer Book Club 2012.

40 thoughts on “Back to Open Waters {Gift from the Sea Intro}

  1. REFLECTION QUESTION 1: In Reeve Lindbergh’s preface (2005 edition), she says Gift from the Sea offers readers “a chance to breathe and to live more slowly….to quiet down and rest in the present, no matter what the circumstances may be….to exist for a while in a different and more peaceful tempo.” What do you need a vacation from this summer? What has been keeping you at a frenzied pace?

    • Darcy, I love this book. Couldn’t stop reading it. Great pick!

      Definitely need a break from our traumatizing past year which included a miscarriage in the middle of a move to a new home, community, church in a new state.

      I loved Reeve’s intro and how she recognizes the timelessness in her mother’s writing. You can feel the appreciation through Reeve’s words and how much she misses her ‘frail yet strong’ hero.

      • So sorry to hear of your loss. I know the fear of losing a child even if I don’t know the experience itself. Reeve wrote, “I am talking about the freedom that comes from choosing to remain open, as my mother did, to life itself, whatever it may bring: joys, sorrows, triumphs, failures, suffering, comfort, and certainly, always, change.” This is a hard one. When we experience trauma, we so often want to close up like the clam. Clearly, it’s important to grieve our losses, but I feel things so deeply that I often have a hard time recovering. Along with meditating on the fact that “God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose”, I’d like to borrow some of Mrs. Lindbergh’s resilience. :)

        I loved Reeve’s reflection on her mother’s smallness in contrast with her strength. I read in another book (I think it was Reeve’s memoir, Under a Wing) that Charles Lindbergh had a small ladder built for Anne to climb into the cockpit in their flying days. And I love the image in the preface here that Reeve shares of her elderly mother, in her size 5 hiking boots, leading her children and grandchildren on an overnight stay in a volcano and pointing out all the constellations that she’d memorized as a pioneer in flight all those years ago.

      • Dear Kerry et al,
        I also appreciated Reeve’s connection to her mother. I found it interesting that Reeve went to Captiva, armed with her personal copy of _Gift…_ to “look” for her mother on the shores. It made me ponder the places (and people to whom) I go when I need wisdom and “encouragement…to carry me forward” (viii).
        My husband, after the death of his paternal grandmother, found a special place on Mt. Baldy at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. For decades, he has visited his “thoughtful spot” and sought answers for his life’s questions there.
        My childhood friend has moved many different times all over the United States. He told me that as soon as moves, he finds a place within walking distance of his residence where he can “be still and know G-d.”
        These people in my life, along with reading the preface to _Gift…_bring me back to a realization that I don’t pause enough to ponder…and I certainly don’t pause enough to find a safe place to ponder. From what I understand, houses built during Jesus’ day had a small room for prayer, meditation, and seeking answers, and private devotion (Matt 6:6, sometimes called a “prayer closet” or an “upper room”). Jews “made space” in their daily life for spiritual disciplines. Not just when on vacation. Not just when their children were grown. It was an important part of religious practice to regularly “meet” with the Divine.

        • Beautiful thoughts, Julie. I originally had this theme as one of the discussion questions. On the same page (viii), Reeve makes reference to “a number of revelations and discussions about our personal family history.” After her mother’s death, she learned some very alarming things that her father had kept secret for decades. What a gift that she was able to go back to this memoir and glean from her mother’s wisdom on how to approach the challenges of life. And, yes, I love the idea of a “thoughtful spot”…and the term itself. My upper room, both figuratively and literally, is the balcony off of our master bedroom. I have the space (at least in warm weather), now if I will only carve out more time.

    • I find myself frenzied bcuz I am always trying to live up to the expectations of others. That is what I am taking a vacation from. There was freedom this weekend when I was simply honest with a family member and made a decision that I felt was for the best. I still want to honor God in all of it but I’m also trying to embrace my place as wife and mom and what is best for us.

      • Oh, the pressure of expectations. Once when we were in the bathroom at a fast food restaurant, a lady was waiting behind us at the sink. I was trying to hurry Elliot along in washing his hands (and it wasn’t working!), all the while feeling like I was inconveniencing this person. It was one of those days when I felt like I could just burst into tears because my micromanaging just wasn’t working and everything was like pulling teeth. Then this woman spoke to us with such grace and gave me the freedom to let my son go at his own pace. I almost cried then, too!!! I had been acting a bit like the Pharisees in Matthew 23, how they heaped burdens on people to maintain an outer appearance, “everything they do is done for people to see.” While I need to be considerate of other people in public, I do not need to put undue pressure on my kids for it…and make us all miserable in the process.

    • I think my most favorite part of vacation was not having a looming sense of responsibility and things to accomplish on my to do list. When you are a homemaker, you never leave your office. Unless of course to run errands to upkeep your office or for an occasional fun outing. On vacation, I had time to read books, sit on the balcony and sip my whole cup of coffee. Yes, we had to go to the grocery, but you and I went at the beginning of the week and it was done. Yes, we had to do laundry but it was minimal and the laundry room is so far I don’t hear the beeps reminding its time to keep working on it! I was so glad we attempted taking the kids to Sanibel that day, even though I think every last one of us parceled a screamer away! As moms we always want our kids to have fun, even at the expense of our sanity and stress levels. I liken it to childbirth, somehow we always repress the tough parts and relish in the joy of a newborn. It is just part of this stage we are in. One day, hopefully, our kids will reminisce about their experiences and we will laugh when they try the same things with their own kids.

      • It’s funny how complicated it is to get there with packing (four to six weeks ahead for some of us!) and surviving the road trip, but when you’re there life feels simple. Still next year, I think we’ll all agree to make it even MORE simple and keep the kids around the pool while the guys are on their fishing trip, right?!!

        You brought up such a good comparison, how we repress the pain of childbirth and remember the joy. We load our arms with lifejackets and cans of sunscreen to keep the kids safe, and buckets and shovels to make for some fun. And there in wet sand near the bubbling surf, we dig back into our own childhood while making memories for theirs. Simple joy lessens the memory of the work.

        Someday, I know we will be laughing like Debbie does when she watches us try to reel in our little wild ones. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who “parceled a screamer away” on our shelling adventure. So happy you shared your reflections here today. :)

    • That passage really resonated with me. Too often, I catch myself taking shallow breaths, mostly when I’m focusing my thoughts on the anxieties and worries of life – when will I find/create time to finish writing my dissertation? how will we work through financial uncertainty? can we afford the financial costs to raise a second child? can we afford the biological time to wait for a second child? is the child i already have developing a sense of entitlement? It’s as if I’m so tightly woven with worry that I don’t take enough time to BREATHE!

      Yoga is a practice that has helped me to train my breathing, a fundamental, life-sustaining function. When I am fully breathing, my mind can think more clearly, more calmly, more compassionately. I am able to be more at peace with now, and let go of some of that worry. My hope is to retreat to my yoga mat more often during these summer months!

      P.S. I’m really enjoying this read. Amazing that it was written half a century ago, and yet, it remains so relevant. Thanks for initiating this!

      • Funny that the most painful experience of my life, childbirth, is when I practiced this calm rhythmic type of breathing. And then in the middle of everyday stresses that aren’t near as traumatic, I sometimes find myself holding my breath.

        I, too, was amazed at the relevance of this book. I tend to think of us having so many more things to make us frantic in this current era, but the way she describes the scene of her time shows how very much we have in common. Glad you are enjoying the read!

  2. REFLECTION QUESTION 2: Anne Morrow Lindbergh was surprised to find so many women looking for a “new pattern of living” when she thought that they’d had it all together and didn’t need to change a thing. Can you relate? Share an example of a time when you were surprised to find how much you have in common with the women around you.

    • The very first thing that comes to mind immediately is the blogosphere and how many of us as moms, single women, businesswomen – you name it – are looking for a simpler life. That strive for better balance, too, with all we want to take on. Or have to take on.

      Next, I think about preparing to speak at a women’s banquet a couple months back. And how relieved I was – and yet a bit surprised to the extent – that we really want the same things from other women… To be recognized for what we do, how hard we work. To have someone relate to us in the good and the bad. And the desire for others to extend hands of friendship our direction – not always the reverse. It was so encouraging.

      • The blogosphere is a great place to feel some camaraderie, as long as we are being authentic about our everyday experience and not polishing the reality too much. I can think of particular Ann Voskamp posts that have gotten me through some hard days. The pressure cooker post is one of them!

    • As I was reading your post, I found it comforting to picture your struggle with Farrah. I actually had to leave Ande in the gas station bathroom alone and stand outside because of her fit during our vacation. I just smiled at the young clerk who I’m certain had her own thoughts on my parenting. You, and creative friends like you, have an unachievable place in my mind. It is nice to hear you as well as this author in your humanity of seeing others in a place of our mind’s longing. It’s just nice to know that even the women I put on pedestals are like me more than I realize.

      • You and I still have the ideals of each other from our high school and college years before hitting the trenches of motherhood. ;) Stick around the blog long enough, or come down for a visit, and you will breathe a sigh of relief and probably feel better about your own mothering skills! I remember a while back one of my neighbors was telling me how her oldest had been acting up so much that she felt crazy and she was sure anyone walking by could hear her yelling. I think God had her share that with me that day because I had been feeling like such a mess for shouting at the kids. Not that seeing others’ struggles should give us an excuse to continue our bad behavior, but sometimes that camaraderie can set us free to work on getting better together.

  3. REFLECTION QUESTION 3: The author at one point felt compelled to write these chapters merely as journal entries for herself, but ended up seeing the need for giving them back to the women of the world. What gift or talent have you been keeping to yourself?

    • Reeve’s comment that, “even the sway and flow of language and cadence seem to me to make reference to the easy, inevitable moments of the sea.” it’s true! And I love that Anne skied at 65, and hiked at 75!

    • I think about the way she was determining the thoughts of others until she spoke with them and found out their true thoughts. How often do I do the same? I need to listen and seek out the thoughts of others more. In it, I may find that I have more to offer than I realize.

      • It was like she thought the women around her had some secret that she didn’t. And again, as much as she needed solitude, she also needed community to get a better handle on how to live best in her time.

  4. “I am talking about the freedom that comes from choosing to remain open…to life itself, whatever it may bring: joys, sorrows, triumphs, failures, suffering, comfort, and certainly, always change” (xi).
    I’ve been taking a yoga class at my local YMCA for about a year now. It is a class where I can work on my yoga practice as well as meditate on Truth (I write this because not all of the yoga classes I’ve attended have permitted both). In one of my classes, the yoga instructor asked us to examine our body’s rigidity and questioned how our body (might) emulate our hearts and minds. Well, I had “rigid” written all over my body and heart that day (and most days).

    Just that week I had been reading on rigidity in a 1977 _Yoga Journal_. In an article titled “Understanding Stress,” Montez (1977) claims “If we are rigid in our bodies and our thoughts, our lives are probably also structured and hard” (p. 44).

    Me? Structured life? Um, yeah… extremely. Hard and harsh? Well, on my worst days… yes.
    Staying “open to life” isn’t easy for me; I’m afraid of change; I sit at length with my sorrows; and I am immobilized by the suffering of others or my own. And change? I’ll stick around in the ugliest of circumstances to avoid it. So how do I learn to stay open… to life itself?

    I don’t have an exact answer to post here. Since that important yoga class, I’m attempting to use my yoga practice to allow my body to converse about “openness” with my heart and mind. I learn poses to “stay physically open” in hopes that my mind will adopt a similar attitude when appropriate. I want to be a woman who can handle surprises; who can accept my own failures (and goodness laugh about them); and is open to change. I want to be a woman who can be simultaneously soft and strong.

    The sea of life “takes” so many things. I want to be a woman, like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who remains open to the gifts it has in store for me.

    • You know I resonate with this…and my chiropractor knows it, too. “Immobilized by the suffering of others or my own.” Yes, I feel this like the times I’ve pulled my neck so bad that I can’t turn my head for two weeks. My shoulders have felt much softer and my neck less stiff since I started exercising more and working on my core muscles. It brings on more strength and less rigidity. I think you’re on to something here, that sometimes we have to practice something physically to understand it emotionally or spiritually…like Richard Foster’s recommendation of laying our hands down to symbolize letting go of our burdens and cupping them up toward the sky to show our readiness to receive. And your most quotable quote of the day, “I want to be a woman who can handle surprises….” Love it.

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