A Letter to Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh, three times now I’ve turned to you and the reflections you penned in Gift from the Sea. I started out this summer keen on sharing your ideas around simplicity.

You wrote that the demands of daily life run counter to living the creative and contemplative lives. In your words, “The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls…” can interfere with reflection and creativity. I thought of friends who manage to balance the needs of their families with so many other demands.

You wrote that the art and craft of housework has been diminished, while the drudgery remains. “The curtain of mechanization has come down between the mind and the hand.” New to you were refrigerators, ovens and dishwashers – miracle machines that also came with their own burdens and upkeep. Simply put, more stuff to manage. Ten years after your book was released, It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas bemoaned the commercialization of Christmas. This conversation continues. In the present day, the Story of Stuff project asserts that “We have a problem with Stuff. We use too much, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well.”

So, yes. I was going to write about your take on simplicity and multiplicity and the continued relevance of your ideas 60 years after you first thought them.

And then, a tragedy. I lost my brother, a strong, vibrant 35-year-old whose life was claimed in an instant. You lost your infant son and went on to write Gift from the Sea. What would you say to my father who has lost a son? To my nephew who has lost his dad? To his wife who has lost her husband? Or to me?

You might say that we are all islands. We are. But you distinguished that we’re islands “in a common sea.” We go through devastating times alone and together. The deepest valleys must be approached internally. And yet, we are “held” by many. This has been my experience, for which I am grateful. And I love your view on islands – that they are self-contained, whole and serene. The focus here shifts from “alone” to “whole.”

You wrote about simplicity and multiplicity. About multiplicity: “It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.”

In times of loss, we need simplicity to allow for quiet, pain, and hollowness. “We seem so frightened today of being alone, that we never let it happen,” you said. “Even if family, friends and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void.”

About solitude, you wrote, “…we choke the space with continuous music, chatter and companionship to which we do not even listen.” Add Facebook, iTunes, YouTube, blog posts, and so much more. I wonder if you could have imagined this unparalleled multiplicity.

You wanted to live in grace with singleness of eye, a purity of intention, and a central core to your life.

Acadia2And finding balance between stillness and community was the solution, was it not? “I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return.” Simplification, both outer and inner. Simplify, simplify.

You recounted your deliberate seaside solitude. You were alone, but the experience left you feeling “full to the brim.” What made you feel full? Maybe it was knowing that the final answer is always inside. But likely it was (as you asserted) that being separated from loved ones drew you closer to other species and to the universe. “I was in harmony with it, melted into the universe, lost in it.” Lost in nature and full to the brim.

I asked earlier what you might say to those who have lost. (Or to any of us, really.) You’ve written that each cycle of the wave is valid and that validity “need have no relation to time, to duration, to continuity. It is on another plane, judged by other standards.”

A wave crashing.

A firefly’s life.

A loved one here years fewer than we’d hoped.

All valid.

To my nephew, what would you say? You might agree with Frank Warren, founder of Postsecret, who has said that “It’s the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it.” I wonder what you would think of Postsecret, an international community of people longing for truth and connection.

You made reference in the introduction to Gift from the Sea to initially feeling that your experience was different from others. “Are we all under this illusion?” you asked. Postsecret reminds people, week after week, that there’s a universality to our experiences.

Those who have lost siblings would understand that I’ve lost that person whose childhood most closely reflected my own, that person to whom I could say, “Hey, do you remember that time…?” You asked in your book, “What is the shape of my life?” And so I must ask the same question. The shape of my life now includes this loss and how I respond to it.

I wonder if your message would be to go ahead and engage in companionship, in music, in Facebook even. So long as we fully engage in whatever moment we find ourselves. In today’s terms, you might advise us to be mindful, to be intentional. To leave space for simplicity, to make room for stillness.

You wrote that stargazing is what one thirsts for after the smallness of the day. “One thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide.” This visual I will keep with me for a good, long time. At this moment, I’m remembering a few quiet nights alongside the water with my brother. And with others, I plan to experience more of those kind of nights and more often. Because what more can we ask for than a night full of stars pouring into us and on which we’ve slowed down enough to let them in?









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