With a small group of ladies, I am reading Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. We begin by noting the quotes that resonated with us and why. I will share them with you now.
I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core of my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.
- This is my desire as well and has been for some time.
I mean to live a simple life…but I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity.
- I struggle with this. I want a simple, uncluttered life, yet I grew up surrounded by the act and encouragement of accumulation. I want it, but I always want things. I am attached to things. Then I struggle not to condemn myself for that (condemnation was a toxic struggle for me when I was younger). When I read this woman, who I know nothing about, and hear her voice the same desires and the same yearnings in a poetic voice that resonates with me, saying, I am like her, she is like me, and then I hear her say her frame of life does not foster simplicity, then I hear her say “it is okay. You desire it, but it is okay that you do not possess it in the way you think you should.” With the review of just a few pages, she became a comforting mother for me. I did not expect to find that in these pages.
Her description of a life of multiplicity. “And this is not only true of my life, I am forced to conclude; it is the life of millions of women in America.”
- What is this? Am I not alone in this longing and in this struggle?
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.
- Again I read her example to me and it is a consolation. I would not want to be. It is true. I desire it and yet I do not want it fully. Because I want my shell to be beautiful. She describes her actions to make her “little seashell house” beautiful. It is a simple beautiful. We can be active to do this, but in a simple manner, with that spirit of the sea.
Yet the problem is particularly and essentially woman’s. Distraction is, always has been, and probably always will be, inherent in woman’s life. For 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. We must be open to all points of the compass…how desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint—the inner inviolable core, the single eye.
- It is something true to woman. And when I read this I feel that I can I see myself more clearly. Yes this is something about me, deep at my core. My interests, my many, many interests which cannot be expressed in a single profession or project. My visions blurs a little less. It is something of woman. And isn’t it? I look around me and see the women in my life in a new light, a little more clearly. This facet of my personality, that it is multi-faceted it not something that sets me apart, but is something that helps me to be part of something greater.
It is not limited to our present civilization, though we are faced with it now in an exaggerated form. It has always been one of the pitfalls of mankind.
- Ah how true this is! And now that many years have passed since she wrote this how much more painfully true this is today! We not only have a multiplicity of things, we are enslaved by them, compulsively checking and checking and checking. Bored, and so we check. A dull moment, a thought, a question comes to mind, and so we check. A ping, and then we check. It helps with directions, it simplifies life. But it increases the buzzing and the distractions and harms in the way it is meant to help us. We are even deeper in this sickness than in her day because of our glorious technological revolution.
“To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say—is it necessary?”
- Thus I come to the conviction I feel most deeply from this passage. These last words echo in my mind. “Is it necessary?” I read a spiritual exercise online wherein a woman laid out the opposing vision to the woman of Proverbs 31. What stayed with me is the description of the woman who spends the money her husband has earned. I spend too much money. I want things, distractions. I want to take my worth in what I wear. I want to be beautiful. I do acknowledge I enjoy the art of fashion and some things are simply the artistic exercise of putting things together, much like I enjoy in my home or on a table for a party. But if that were all I would be more content than I am…always looking, always distracted, always wanting more.
- And with the urge to condemn myself I might have stopped there, but I come back to the act of decorating her seashell home. I do not have to live the life of a nun when I am a wife and mother. Elizabeth Scalia, who I read devotedly, debated over the purchase of a purse and the struggle of desire and materialism. She comes to a conclusion. She purchased two purses. If one were perfect, she would simply return one and keep the other. Neither are perfect, and rather than continue searching for the perfect one, she accepts this. She will use one for summer and one for winter. They have a function. They cannot be perfect. She is not absorbed by materialism feeling they will answer every need.
- I have to remind myself it is okay. There is a middle road and that is what I am called to. I am still learning. In a few years I will come back around again and need to hear these words again, because I will have forgotten them once more. To me that is grace, for the author, it is the call of the sea, bringing us back to where we belong. It is a gift from the sea.