Christian Science Monitor
Anne Lindbergh: poet of the inner life
By Marilyn Gardner
For years, Anne Morrow Lindbergh's slim
volume, "Gift From the Sea," has occupied an unobtrusive spot on my
bookshelf. Although the pages have yellowed and the book has remained
mostly unopened since several readings in the 1970s, even a glance at the
title produces warm memories of her lyrical reflections on women's search
for meaning in their lives.
Now, with news of Mrs. Lindbergh's death last
week, the book raises an intriguing question that prompts a rereading:
Have her philosophical meditations withstood the test of time?
The answer is yes. If anything, the book
assumes new relevance in the context of 21st-century roles and demands.
Women's lives - and men's, too - have changed
dramatically since Lindbergh published her book in 1955. Eisenhower was
president. American families were nesting, producing the generation that
would come to be known as baby boomers. They were also practicing what
McCall's cozily termed "togetherness." Most mothers did not hold paying
Yet even then, buried beneath idyllic
white-picket-fence portrayals of family life and images of contentment,
simplicity was a myth. Decades before "balancing" and "juggling" came to
describe the complexities today's working parents face, Lindbergh, the
mother of five, lamented the "life of multiplicity."
"What a circus act we women perform every day
of our lives," she writes. "It puts the trapeze artist to shame."
Arguing persuasively for simplification, she
states, "I want first of all ... to be at peace with myself." She adds, "I
would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could
function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God."
Since then, a consumer society has
increasingly emphasized the outer life and visible trappings of success: a
title on the door at work, an accumulation of ever-bigger and more
expensive possessions at home. The inner life has faded in importance. Yet
the yearning for simplicity and peace still runs deep.
"Gift From the Sea" preceded by nearly a
decade "The Feminine Mystique," which was published 38 years ago next
week. In one prescient passage Lindbergh states, "In our recent efforts to
emancipate ourselves, to prove ourselves the equal of man, we have,
naturally enough, perhaps, been drawn into competing with him in his
outward activities, to the neglect of our own inner springs."
Her writings about relationships also take on
new meaning because of what the public now knows about her marriage. As
the devoted wife of one of the world's most famous men, Charles Lindbergh,
whose passion for flying she shared, she appeared to have a close
partnership. Yet biographical revelations in recent years portray her
husband as a controlling man.
"Her sense of peace did not come from her
marriage," says a friend of mine in California, herself a pilot, who has
read biographies of both Lindberghs.
Although women constitute Lindbergh's primary
audience, many of her reflections apply to men as well. Speaking about
solitude, for example, she writes, "The world today does not understand,
in either man or woman, the need to be alone."
Steven Patascher, a mental health counselor in
Scottsdale, Ariz., sometimes recommends "Gift From the Sea" to those who
come to him for counseling. Noting Lindbergh's emphasis on the inner life,
he said in a phone interview, "You've got to have an inner life to have a
proper outer life."
Although Lindbergh remained one of America's
most admired women for many decades, her name means little to a new
generation today. Anne who? they wonder. Gift from what? Accustomed to
glitzier high-decibel celebrities, they could profit from acquainting
themselves with a woman of quiet dignity and great intelligence who made
an eloquent case for being "inwardly attentive" and spiritually attuned.