Curator of the Cape {Gift from the Sea 7: A Few Shells}

I spoon froth into pale brown ripples of coffee and ask for more of the story of this place. Floor-to-ceiling doors wide open bring in a breeze from the bay, and here comes the owner, friend of these friends. He brushes feathery wisps from his brow, tucks some grey behind his ear, and rumbles a bold orange chair across the painted cement floor.

Everything in here is a find, he tells me– a wicker windsor, an antique chandelier, a sturdy wooden table, treasures that surfaced in someone’s attic or in the junk pile at an old school. He repaints this, leaves that distressed, or maybe just throws on a tablecloth. He’s always looking. I wonder at the art and science of how to collect without looking like a hoarder as so often “the acquisitive instinct is incompatible with true appreciation of beauty.”

The answer is that he lets some of it go. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, said “I began to discard from my possessions, to select.” And this man did the same. He singled out a few keepers and opened up the rest for his customers. Sometimes they’d come for a Cuban sandwich and leave with a painted metal chair. Their purchases made room for the owner’s creativity to play out, “for it is only framed in space that beauty blooms.”

This place is a microcosm. Under a leafy light fixture, women of all ages circle a table. Here, a middle aged Afrikaaner couple. There, a family of Indian-descent. On the deck, a group of friends clicking in Xhosa. The owner knows them all, or at least acts like he does. And, so the guests begin to meet each other. Like AML, “I discover here what everyone has experienced on an ocean voyage or a long train ride or a temporary seclusion in a small village. Out of the welter of life, a few people are selected for us by the accident of temporary confinement in the same circle.” And this interaction invigorates, makes us want to stay on the “island”. But in our everyday life, in big continental living, what do we do when there are “too many worthy activities, valuable things and interesting people” and we don’t think we have the space to seat them?

Nearby, a whole different kind of table rises out of water and lays covered in cloud, ready for conversation. Table Mountain, the centerpiece of Cape Town is up against Devil’s Peak on one side and Lion’s Head on the other. And don’t we sometimes face our own two predators, sometimes take our meals in the presence of enemies, those that seek to devour simplicity and beauty by snatching us into purposeless things? Mrs. Lindbergh wrote, “When I go back will I be submerged again, not only by centrifugal activities, but by too many centripetal ones? Not only by distractions but by too many opportunities?… Values weighed in quantity, not quality; in speed, not stillness; in noise, not silence; in words, not in thoughts; in acquisitiveness, not beauty. How shall I resist the onslaught?”

I think Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s ideals, “simplicity of living….space for significance and beauty….life of the spirit, creative life and the life of human relationships,” find themselves in the snapshot of this creative eatery in the Cape. We can take these “island-precepts…signposts toward another way of living.”

We can collect the things that catch our eye. We can beautify them. We can loosen our grip to share them and make room for more gathering of goods. We can set empty chairs around cleared tables and gather people around us, too. We can put a notice on the wall to show maximum occupancy and a sign on the door that tells what time the doors will open and what time the lights will dim, providing ourselves islands of time in the seemingly endless sea of our everyday.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 7, “A Few Shells” 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.

48 thoughts on “Curator of the Cape {Gift from the Sea 7: A Few Shells}

  1. REFLECTION QUESTION #1: When have you been like Anne Morrow Lindbergh with pockets bursting with shells (105-106), whether literally or figuratively? And did you at some point find yourself becoming more selective, slimming down your collection? Describe your experience.

    • This reminded me of getting married and the “stuff” outsiders tell you that you most certainly need. The dreaded registry, seemingly fun at first, but so not in the end. We didn’t have a big home by any means for our first two we lived in. So acquiring loads was not an option. And yet there was still so much we had that we didn’t need. Then another move to a bigger home – added another child and acquired more, only to head off to seminary a couple years later and need to drastically downsize. Moved back from seminary, re-collected stuff again, that people generously gave and we couldn’t say no to, and the whole time thinking why?? Now with our recent move, we are ridding our lives of the stuff all over again – 5 babes later we are passionate about needing less. It’s so therapeutic and freeing. Simplistic living to fully appreciate the special treasures.

      • Moving, as horrendous as it is, always seems to help push me toward simplicity. Something about starting with a clean slate in a new place makes me rethink the accumulations.

      • Agreed with @Kerry and @Darcy! The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t “need” all that conventional wisdom tells me I need. I am getting better at ignoring that, but am still struggling with the voice in my head that tells me I might need it “someday”.

  2. REFLECTION QUESTION #1: When have you been like Anne Morrow Lindbergh with pockets bursting with shells (105-106), whether literally or figuratively? And did you at some point find yourself becoming more selective, slimming down your collection? Describe your experience.

    • This reminded me of getting married and the “stuff” outsiders tell you that you most certainly need. The dreaded registry, seemingly fun at first, but so not in the end. We didn’t have a big home by any means for our first two we lived in. So acquiring loads was not an option. And yet there was still so much we had that we didn’t need. Then another move to a bigger home – added another child and acquired more, only to head off to seminary a couple years later and need to drastically downsize. Moved back from seminary, re-collected stuff again, that people generously gave and we couldn’t say no to, and the whole time thinking why?? Now with our recent move, we are ridding our lives of the stuff all over again – 5 babes later we are passionate about needing less. It’s so therapeutic and freeing. Simplistic living to fully appreciate the special treasures.

      • Moving, as horrendous as it is, always seems to help push me toward simplicity. Something about starting with a clean slate in a new place makes me rethink the accumulations.

      • Agreed with @Kerry and @Darcy! The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t “need” all that conventional wisdom tells me I need. I am getting better at ignoring that, but am still struggling with the voice in my head that tells me I might need it “someday”.

  3. REFLECTION QUESTION #2: Our lady of the metaphor shares several images of how things “are more beautiful if they are few” (106). We read “ringed around by space–like the island….it is only framed in space that beauty blooms….a tree against the empty face of sky….a note in music gains significance from the silences on either side….a candle flowers in space of night….a few autumn grasses in one corner of an Oriental painting” (106-107). What resonates most with you?

      • When I visited Picasso’s museum in Barcelona, I was struck by the evolution of his paintings and drawings. After all of the crazy experiments with shapes and color and exaggerating certain features of a subject that made PIcasso famous, there was toward the end of the collection a simple drawing of a bird. In his maturity, he went back to basics and it was lovely.

  4. REFLECTION QUESTION #3: When thinking on her life back home, AML 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.” Tell us about your experience with this.

    • Saw a Timothy Keller interview lately where he talked about not letting ministry takeover your life. That many of us will look back and think – I so wish I had spent more time with my family – And he takes it further by saying we should also wish we spent more time with God. Even ministry robs us of that divine relationship.

  5. REFLECTION QUESTION #3: When thinking on her life back home, AML 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.” Tell us about your experience with this.

    • Saw a Timothy Keller interview lately where he talked about not letting ministry takeover your life. That many of us will look back and think – I so wish I had spent more time with my family – And he takes it further by saying we should also wish we spent more time with God. Even ministry robs us of that divine relationship.

  6. REFLECTION QUESTION #4: I enjoyed the author’s ruminations on the refreshing nature of physical work, especially her line, “And when I cannot write a poem, I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased.” :) She wrote more, “Here where there is time and space, the physical tasks are a welcome change. They balance my life in a way I find refreshing and in which I seldom feel refreshed at home. Making beds or driving to market is not as refreshing as swimming or bicycling or digging in the earth. I cannot go on burying the garbage when I get home, but I can dig in a garden; I can bicycle to the cabin where I work; and I can remember to bake biscuits on bad days” (109). What kind of physical work refreshes you? How can you work on balancing these with intellectual work and/or with the more draining physical tasks?

    • I loved these lines. I think AML is adorable in her truths sometimes. Because isn’t it true that everything is more enjoyable when we’re on “holiday” – even the upkeep of the resort. It’s not such a chore, it’s pleasure.
      A lot of times I end up cleaning when I’m angry. So doing a round of dishes, laundry, organizing… It’s my think time. My review of what it is that’s really bothering me. It allows me the space I need and some accomplishment in the end. Writing does the same for me at times. Good exercise is good for the soul, as well. Even just now I went to the chiropractor and it was a refreshing fix.

  7. REFLECTION QUESTION #5: AML wrote: “My island selects for me people who are very different from me–the stranger who turns out to be, in the frame of sufficient time and space, invariably interesting and enriching. I discover here what everyone has experienced on an ocean voyage or a long train ride or a temporary seclusion in a small village. Out of the welter of life, a few people are selected for us by the accident of temporary confinement in the same circle. We never would have chosen these neighbors; life chose them for us. But thrown together on this island of living, we stretch to understand each other and are invigorated by the stretching” (110). Have you experienced “island community” as she described it? Share.

    • We are currently living in an island community of sorts. Not surrounded by our typical band of people and yet we are stretching and growing. Beyond comfort zones. Beyond normal securities. It’s a trust test. And I have to add that our relationships are all the richer for it.

  8. REFLECTION QUESTION #5: AML wrote: “My island selects for me people who are very different from me–the stranger who turns out to be, in the frame of sufficient time and space, invariably interesting and enriching. I discover here what everyone has experienced on an ocean voyage or a long train ride or a temporary seclusion in a small village. Out of the welter of life, a few people are selected for us by the accident of temporary confinement in the same circle. We never would have chosen these neighbors; life chose them for us. But thrown together on this island of living, we stretch to understand each other and are invigorated by the stretching” (110). Have you experienced “island community” as she described it? Share.

    • We are currently living in an island community of sorts. Not surrounded by our typical band of people and yet we are stretching and growing. Beyond comfort zones. Beyond normal securities. It’s a trust test. And I have to add that our relationships are all the richer for it.

  9. REFLECTION QUESTION #6: Is this true of you: “we usually select the known, seldom the strange. We tend not to choose the unknown which might be a shock or a disappointment or simply a little difficult to cope with. And yet it is the unknown with all its disappointments and surprises that is the most enriching”? (111). How can you allow more of the diverse “island community” into your regular life?

  10. REFLECTION QUESTION #6: Is this true of you: “we usually select the known, seldom the strange. We tend not to choose the unknown which might be a shock or a disappointment or simply a little difficult to cope with. And yet it is the unknown with all its disappointments and surprises that is the most enriching”? (111). How can you allow more of the diverse “island community” into your regular life?

  11. REFLECTION QUESTION #7: On page 112, Mrs. Lindbergh shared a list of her “few shells,” lessons and insights she will take with her from the island. As we wind down our reading of Gift from the Sea next week, what are your “few shells” that you’ll be taking with you?

    • I think there is no going wrong with simplified living. This book has emphasized that concept we’ve been crawling toward all along. So I feel all the more spurred on. And surrounding ourselves with the space to fully appreciate the purposeful pleasures is a must. So many gems in this book.

  12. REFLECTION QUESTION #7: On page 112, Mrs. Lindbergh shared a list of her “few shells,” lessons and insights she will take with her from the island. As we wind down our reading of Gift from the Sea next week, what are your “few shells” that you’ll be taking with you?

    • I think there is no going wrong with simplified living. This book has emphasized that concept we’ve been crawling toward all along. So I feel all the more spurred on. And surrounding ourselves with the space to fully appreciate the purposeful pleasures is a must. So many gems in this book.

  13. I love this collection of thoughts, especially the last paragraph. We’re each given a lot in life where we manage time, space and relationships. This makes me think of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 and the phrase “hold fast that which is good.”

  14. I love this collection of thoughts, especially the last paragraph. We’re each given a lot in life where we manage time, space and relationships. This makes me think of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 and the phrase “hold fast that which is good.”

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