Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Amazing Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the American author and poet, who was married to Charles Lindbergh, the famous American aviator. Their life together is the stuff of legend—traveling in their own small plane around the world, the kidnapping and murder of their infant son, living in Europe to escape the subsequent media circus, their celebrity status in the USA—all detailed in the individual biographies written about each of them.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh dreamed of and attained a successful literary career in the course of her long life; she lived to be 94 years old and was a poet and author of a number of books. She also learned to fly and accompanied her famous husband on many of his flights as his co-pilot. She was likely unaware of his extramarital affairs with several German women that resulted in a number of children. If she did know, she took her secret with her in death, and coped in life in the way that she knew best--she pursued her writing. This is what she wrote about writing: 

“I cannot see what I have gone through until I write it down. I am blind without a pencil……. I am convinced that you must write as if no one were ever going to see it. Write it all, as personally and specifically as you can, as deeply and honestly as you can. … In fact, I think it is the only true way to reach the universal, through the knot-hole of the personal. So do, do go ahead and write it as it boils up: the hot lava from the unconscious. Don’t stop to observe, criticize, or be ‘ironic.’ Just write it, like a letter, without rereading. Later, one can decide what to do.”

--From "Against Wind and Tide: Letters and Journals, 1947-1986", by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (2012, Pantheon) 

But it is her wonderful book--Gift from the Sea (published in 1955)--that captured me with its wisdom, inspiration and simplicity. I first read it when I was seventeen and it made a huge impression on me. She wrote about women’s lives and responsibilities and how they often conflicted with the desire to lead an independent life and to pursue a literary career. She wrote the following:

“To be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass: husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider's web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need, and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living. How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint -- the inner inviolable core, the single eye.

With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls -- woman's normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.

What is the answer? There is no easy answer, no complete answer. I have only clues, shells from the sea. The bare beauty of the channeled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible, I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. 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. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life. I can at least practice for these two weeks the simplification of outward life, as a beginning”.

-- From ''Gift From the Sea''  (1955, Pantheon)

No comments:

Post a Comment