The Inventor’s Banyan {Gift from the Sea 6: Argonauta}

We were gathered in by branches, a generous canopy shielding sun from shoulders that looked mostly like stewed tomatoes. I had told my husband to wear sunscreen the day before, but he hadn’t listened. So this day, we fled the Gulf beach to find shade along the Caloosahatchee River.

I took my sunglasses off and eyed the tree, following the line from one root up the trunk. I paused where the trunk reached a slanted bough and then traced the rest of the way up the incline. There, the limb melded with another trunk that rooted itself in the ground. I could have counted a few hundred of those wooden twists and turns, winding myself around in “wandering mazes lost.” I looked down at a placard and read that the beautiful tangle of branches and trunks all made up one tree.

When it first anchored in that patch of Florida soil, the tree was the size of a rosebush, a souvenir brought back from Harvey Firestone’s trip to India and gifted to his inventor friend, Thomas Edison. The two mad scientists leaked sap from the tree and took it to the laboratory, experiment after experiment, searching out the best rubber for the road.

In other parts of the property, Mina Edison put her creative hands to work, cultivating a moonlight garden full of white flowers that would show bright at night. And she happily crowned herself with the title “home executive.” Her husband’s weakness happened to be her strength. As she tended the Seminole Lodge winter after winter, the wild tree kept growing too, tending itself, jutting out branches and sending down roots that would grow to look like tree trunks.

This is a bit like what Anne Morrow Lindbergh described as the healthy marriage relationship: “With growth, it is true, comes differentiation and separation, in the sense that the unity of the tree-trunk differentiates as it grows and spreads in to limbs, branches and leaves. But the tree is still one, and its different and separate parts contribute to one another.”

There is much to share in my relationship with my husband. He and I love talking about the Scripture and how it sheds light on the situations around us. We enjoy working with words or making music together. We flock to the same vintage meets contemporary style in interior design. We both love our pedestrian-friendly town life. We share the work of caring for our little ones (much different from previous generations as I’ve heard many Baby Boomer women say). And in all those areas, we grow tall together.

But, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh quotes 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.”

I have been guilty of expecting my husband to love everything that I love, to share everything in common with me. I want him to try a bite from my exotic plate at dinner. He wants to simply enjoy the predictable thing he ordered. I am drawn to internationals and know how to make small talk in a few languages. He knows how to say “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” I crave homegrown food. He likes meals that come in a box.

And even in the things we have in common, we have our own unique styles. He is all-out rock band. I am singer/songwriter. He thrills to state the case for his philosophies. I shy away from controversy. He’s got skills on the basketball court. I trip over my own feet.

But all these passions of his, though I don’t claim them as my own, they show me a bigger world than the one I knew before. As Rilke said, “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!”

Like Edison and friends, Anne Morrow Lindbergh dealt with the fact that “theory precedes exploration.” Along with other advancements, the Edison experiments contributed to the better gripping tires we have on the road today. And Mina Edison felt happy contributing to that far reaching effort through her gift of administration.

As for Anne Morrow Lindbergh, she considered the theory of a relationship of equals who allow “space and freedom for growth” and saw herself and her peers as “pioneers trying to find a new path.” She reminded readers that “in the past, [woman] has swung between these two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism. Both extremes throw her off balance; neither is the center, the true center of being a whole woman…. She must become whole.”

We must reach without fear into the open space, follow our God-given passions and become more of the woman each of us was made to be. This happens “when the heart is flooded with love [and, as a result,] there is no room in it for fear, for doubt, for hesitation.” And, as the author asserts, man, too, must “expand the neglected sides of his personality.” Together, we grow tall; individually, we reach wide…and we become “the meeting of two whole fully developed people as persons.”

Now, almost 90 years after Harvey Firestone’s gift was first planted, Thomas Edison’s banyan tree spans a whole acre of land just inside the Gulf Coast…one strong tree sending down roots from wide-reaching branches.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 6, “Argonauta” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}

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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.

28 thoughts on “The Inventor’s Banyan {Gift from the Sea 6: Argonauta}

  1. REFLECTION QUESTION #1: AML uses a few different metaphors to describe freedom in relationship: the image of the argonauta shell as a little ship, “ready to set sail across unknown seas” (84), the growth of a tree trunk that “spreads into limbs, branches and leaves” (89), and “dancers, not needing to touch more than lightly because we were instinctively moving to the same rhythm” (96). Which picture resonates most with you? Share why.

    • Right off, the tree growth resonated with me. I could picture it and thought *Oh, yes. Such a perfect representation!*… The roots, trunk. Then extended growth, much like relationship foundations and growing strong as couple. But then the branching out and leafy growth reminds me of how unique we still remain as individuals. And how we want to continue to love the highlights of each other’s uniqueness and encourage continual growth! Loved this metaphor for the points AML was talking about in relationships. Loved this whole chapter.

    • I love the image of the dancers. Some of the greatest peace in my relationship with Rod is when we work together as a team. When I look back on those moments, I often find myself in awe of just how naturally our teamwork compliments each other. God certainly knew what He was doing when He gave me this man.

      • I had C.S. Lewis’ quote as a possible piece of this week’s post: “Discipline, while the world is yet unfallen, exists for the sake of what seems its very opposite– for freedom, almost for extravagance. The pattern deep hidden in the dance, hidden so deep that shallow spectators cannot see it, alone gives beauty to the wild, free gestures that fill it…..” -C.S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost (page 81)

  2. REFLECTION QUESTION #2: When discussing the German poet, Rilke, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: “He foresaw a great change in the relationships between men and women, which he hoped in the future would no longer follow the traditional patterns of submission and domination or of possession and competition…. It perhaps can only follow a long development in the history of human civilization and individually in each human being’s life” (86-87). Do you think the relationship between man and woman, at least in our culture, has improved since AML wrote these words in the 1950s? If so, how? What other changes do you feel need to be made?

    • Yes and no. I still think there’s much work needed on the respect issue. I come back to that a lot based on my childhood observations. I hold high expectations for quality spousal relationships. I love when my husband compliments my talents in motherhood but also outside of motherhood and wifedom. I think moms feel like they easily (and quickly) lose their sense of self. It’s sometimes hard to go back and rediscover self after years of not much inward focus. To have a better idea now of how I could have cared for the overall more effectively, well, that’s hindsight. But it’s never too late to improve and grow and learn from.

    • Hmm…yes, in some ways. Have you noticed, though, that men call women “girls” but are deeply offended when we call them boys? Have you noticed how men think it is okay to talk about women’s weight in public (um, at all!) Have you noticed how young females are encouraged to read and write but are excused from mechanical and mathematical learning? Have you noticed how men describe females (and African Americans) physically instead of intellectually or by skill? Have you noticed that being “emotional” is somehow classified as female and bad?

      We’ve still got some work ahead of us, if we want our daughters to receive the respect they deserve…

      • I especially have noticed the negative connotation of “emotional” or “sensitive” as I happen to be quite a bit of both. And I’ve always rolled my eyes at phrases like “he throws like a girl” as if “girl” is an insult. At the same time, I think a lot of women insult the capabilities or intelligence of men in certain areas and I don’t necessarily think we get a pass just because we have been mistreated or held back before.

    • As I look at my own life, I see the benefits of my husband as an involved father, doing things men were unheard of doing in those days (changing diapers). It’s nice to have the freedom to have a girls’ night out and know he’ll be willing to stay home with the kids or even be able to embrace some time alone. Still, I think I need to be careful not to have this at the expense of my marriage or my family. And I think we may have strayed too far from submission, simply because the old understanding of submission was so flawed. It is important that I recognize submission is part of God’s best for my life. I do need my husband’s leadership.

      • That word “submission” often sounds like such a negative one. But I’ve been noticing the last several years that the word for me means humbling myself enough to let other people take care of me. I am very independent and can verge on trying control everything around me sometimes. But I need to allow myself the joy of having someone else plan something for me or take care of me.

  3. REFLECTION QUESTION #3: Discuss the “two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism” (88). Do you agree that both throw woman off balance?

    • I don’t think AML had a real grasp of feminism. To many women, it is another dirty “f” word. I have come to embrace this “f” word, as it bonds me with others who believe I deserve the same rights as men. I am different, but I am equal. This ideology, to me, is the only way to achieve balance.

      For me, the imbalance happens when I forget I deserve equal treatment…not when I expect, demand, or receive it.

      • Different but equal…a healthy description. AML does talk more about this in the postlude. I think she disagreed with her earlier self on several things in this area.

        Also, as a side thought, do you think the only good “isms” are for groups that have felt overlooked, mistreated or displaced?

  4. REFLECTION QUESTION #4: On page 89, AML talks about the ways that both men and women can achieve greater wholeness. What would your diagnosis and prescription be for men and for women in our current time?

    • Diagnosis: broken and imperfect world. Separation from G-d.

      Prescription: spiritual development, time in nature seeking G-d, and lots & lots of counseling:) Learn to forgive and release anger & sadness.

    • I think we need to embrace our differences, mutually respecting each other, realizing God designed us to complete one another. We can help each other become better individually, together.

  5. REFLECTION QUESTION #5: I love the description of the sisters’ day together: “We wake in the same small room from the deep sleep of good children, to the soft sound of wind through the casuarina trees and the gentle sleep-breathing rhythm of waves on the shore. We run bare-legged to the beach, which lies smooth, flat and glistening with fresh wet shells after the night’s tides. The morning swim has the nature of a blessing to me, a baptism, a rebirth to the beauty and wonder of the world….” (91-92). What were the elements in the section from page 91-95 that made this a perfect day? How does this relate with wholeness in relationship?

    • I could predict some of what she said before she said it in this section. So enjoyed this. The resting in the sand looking up at the vast sky. The heading back to tidy up and cook, hungry after the beach experience. The solace in alone writing time then rejoining. Just loved all the aspects described and the relationship as sisters.

  6. REFLECTION QUESTION #6: I was struck by AML’s passage on page 100: “We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.” How does this connect with “the joy of living in the moment” or “perfect poise on beat” on pages 96-97?

    • Love her recap of the shells she’s talked about up to now. And their importance, yet not the be all, end all to life. I think it’s so easy to lose perspective and get wrapped up in our current stage of life. Forsaking lessons and growth yet to come. I love the surprising feeling of changed perspective and life lessons learned beyond what box I limit myself to now.

    • I loved the part about the ebb and flow of the tide as a metaphor for “grasping” love versus the “giving” love. That is so hard.

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