Reflections on Gift from the Sea: The final sections (6, 7, and 8)

When I was in 8th grade, I fell in love with Christ. Every year following that was romance, beauty and yearning for his battlefields. When I married, my world became smaller. The trials we experienced were pressing and though a part of me still looked out to the larger world, planetal awareness, as Mrs. Lindbergh calls it, my attention was necessarily focused, and is still focused, towards the little world of our family.

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I recall the lesson of Mother Teresa. How to change the world? Drop by drop.

I asked a priest once, can one still experience total union with Christ if one is married? He answered, yes, all three of you.

How does it all happen? On a practical level, how does it happen?

We don’t often hear these stories and even if you do, is it ever really enough to fully fit the image into your psyche?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh has painted a picture for me. Shell by shell, step by step, she opened up my awareness to the beauty of alone time, of creative work, of alone-togetherness, of the middle functional period of marriage, and the evolution that takes place so that slowly we become whole persons able to give like we’ve never given before, because we’ve never been so complete. And now what?

Two sections ago I was thinking, these are good things I am working on. I feel so good, so satisfied. Each week I read a little, write a little, do some craft or design. And I feel good. I’m spending more time with my eldest, delighting in her a little more, missing her when she is at my parents’ home for a visit. Then I thought, this is all well and good, but shouldn’t I be working on my spirituality too?

If it feels good, just don’t do it, eh? I’m told that’s an old Irish philosophy. If I feel this happy, I must be missing something, right? (My low self-esteem talking)

Then comes the last section, “The Beach at my Back.” Here are the quotes:

Modern communication loads us up with more problems than the human frame can carry.

It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.

Can we solve world problems when one is unable to solve one’s own?

If we stop to think about it, are not the real casualties in modern life just these centers I have been discussing: the here, the now, the individual and his relationships.

The here, the now, and the individual, have always been the special concern of the saint, the artist, the poet, and—from time immemorial—the woman. In the small circle of the home she has never quite, forgotten the particular uniqueness of each member of the family.

The path to holiness that I must walk takes into account the world in which I live, a busy, chaotic world, where we are informed nonstop of the plight of others and not just the masses, but human, personal stories of individuals. And it’s painful to bear it.

Start at home. Start with one’s community. We are here given permission to let go a little of the troubles around the world. We are not meant to bear all these crosses.

The feminine genius, according to St. Pope John Paul II, possesses a particular openness to the person. This genius acts as a light to guide mankind back to its center. The ebb and flow of life. We can be go out but must return inward.

Perhaps it feels good precisely because it is right. As Mrs. Lindbergh says, I must take these seashells with me, for me these are these reflections I have written, let them be the eyes of the sea for me, reminders, guide posts of what matters, in order to point me on my way.

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Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Six

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Continuing on with the reading of Gift from the Sea. I should start every reflection post with this explanation. Quotes from the book are in plain font and my thoughts are in italics.

I believe there is, after the oyster bed, an opportunity for the best relationship of all: not a limited, mutually exclusive one, like the sunrise shell; a not a functional, dependent one, as in the oyster bed; but the meeting of two whole fully developed people as persons.

Such a stage in life, it would seem to me, must come not as a gift or lucky accident, but as part of an evolutionary process, an achievement which could only follow certain important developments in each partner.

Hmm. A development. An evolution. I am stronger than I ever knew before. I am more beautiful than I ever believed before. I have confidence. I must speak up for myself. I must speak up for my children. I cannot take everything to heart. I have to consider the circumstances. I can be spit on and remain patient. Well, only if it happens from a child because that is who usually spits on me. All of these things I have learned through the romantic period and this current period in our marriage and parenthood. I need my husband. I need him a very functional way. I cannot take care of everything. Three children…”you must be busy;” “you sure have your hands full,” etc. The comments from strangers never end. But I like our interdependence. I don’t see it as a weakness. Mrs. Lindbergh affirms its value. This is a stage in our marriage. And it has a purpose. It is an evolution. As I look, I can see and I understand.

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return.

Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

I don’t have to be afraid. He talks to me less because he is an introvert and he is overstimulated, overwhelmed by the ceaseless noise. Once 7:30pm rolls around and the last rascal is ready for bed, I can see, on most days, his longing to collect his thoughts, be alone, relax. On other days he seeks me out, want to talk to me, wants to share ideas with me. We went on a date for the first time in quite a while. It was during nap time. Ordinarily we both rest, in some way, during this time. I knew we did not have to talk. We walked. We visited our old haunts. I knew it was not a failing that we did not dive into intense conversation now that we were free to do so. I have to write these things because I know them and knew them, but there is ever a temptation in my mind not to trust this ebb and flow. Some times we will be functional, sometimes it will be romance.

Let us return to that thought of the meeting of two complete people. The romantic period taught me my need for him. Though it feels that need deepens, in other ways, I find myself quite capable of doing myself what I never dreamed possible. If there weren’t these children, I’m sure I would see it better. I can see I am more complete, less insecure (though still plenty enough insecure to deal with). And so when we pass through this period, on the other side, we will be more complete, we will have more to give to each other. It is a very good thought.

He [Rilke] foresaw a great change in the relationships between men and women, which he hoped in the future would no longer follow the traditional patterns of submission and domination or of possession and competition. He described a state in which there would be space and freedom for growth, and in which each partner would be the means of releasing the other.

 How beautiful. I see that with us.

For we are, actually, pioneers trying to find a new path through the maze of tradition, convention and dogma. Our efforts are part of the struggle to mature the conception of relationships between men and women—in fact all relationships…every advance in understanding has value.

We are not following the paths of our parents. We forge a new way based on tradition, convention and dogma. It fits us. It does not fit the mold. I am primarily at home. He is the primary cook. I clean. We both take care of the children, but I primarily take care of the baby. Some of it seems so traditional, and yet some of it puts tradition on its head.

In fact, I wonderful if both man and woman must not accomplish this heroic feat. Must not man also become a world to himself? Must he not also expand the neglected sides of his personality; the art of inward looking that he has seldom had time for in his active outward-going life…

A relationship with a woman can change a man so much, and vice verse, if the relationship is doing what it ought. Then comes the peace, the silence. That stage I have yet to see. There would be more time. If we are ever seeking growth than once that time comes we can grow to enjoy the virtue we have been struggling so painfully to practice. I must be strong and independent as I prepare a meal or take three children to the store. He must be soft and gentle in the face of irrational emotion. This will serve us well one day. I’m sure of it.

It cannot be reached until woman—individually and as a sex—has herself come of age, a maturing process we are witnessing today. This is the essence of “coming of age”—to learn how to stand alone. She must learn not to depend on another, not feel she must prove her strength by competing with another.

“Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” After the fall, the temptation was for woman to seek after the man, to need him in an unhealthy way, to not be her own person and recognize her strength. His temptation would be to treat her as an object, to rule over her as he would an animal, not to recognize her genius and contribution. As time passes, there are more opportunities for women to realize their potential. I am the daughter of a feminist who would never label herself as a feminist. I’m trying to swing back, a little closer to the middle, taking the good from both poles of tradition and modernity.

In the past, she has swung between these two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism. Both extremes throw her off balance; neither is the enter, the true center of being a whole woman.

It will be a continuum process of correction, we will always swing too far whenever we swing. As individuals we can seek to find the middle way, the center, the understanding of who I am as a person. Men and women complement each other, but they must recognize their wholeness separate of each other as well. That is integral gender complementarity (search for Sr. Prudence Allen’s writings for more on this). God meant us to be complete, yet to learn from each other. It is wrong to say “these are the qualities of a woman” and “these are a qualities of a man.” That breaks us into fractions (fractional gender complementarity), unable to be complete. The concept that to be brave, bold, aggressive is part of man, but put a woman in a protective stance for her child and you will see “mama-bear.” Did she ever seem more womanly than at that moment?

How nice that Tom Cruise can say “You complete me.” If it stopped there, the relationship would be terrible indeed, ever dependent on the completion she provides him. I can say less dramatically, “when I met you, I saw in you something that would draw me to become whole, a complete person.” What a beautiful thought. “When I met you, I saw an image of who God intended me to be, and I knew, walking with you, I would find it.”

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Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Five

It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life…

I have questioned myself on this. We have so much stuff. I used to feel guilty when I would pack so many things to travel. Why do I take so much? Everyone seemed to have smaller suitcases than me. Yet it seemed I needed each item. Whenever I attempted to pack light, I found myself frustrated or unprepared in the moments that followed. So now life, with our accumulations. We moved from a strange, albeit spacious, dogtrot home to overflowing a three bedroom 1980’s home to nicely filling a four-bedroom with intelligent storage design. So many things! Do we have too much? It seems ridiculous to rid ourselves of many of these things since we will likely need them again within a few years (bassinet, changing table). So we needed more space.

The oyster has fought to have that place on the rock to which it has fitted itself perfectly and to which it clings tenaciously. So most couples in the growing years of marriage struggle to achieve a place in the world. It is a physical and material battle first of all, for a home, for children, for a place in their particular society.

It does feel like a fight. We move and move and though we have our friendships, and love those friends from before our marriage, to find our way of life is another story. It is good to have old friends. But we need friends here, in our town, on our street, in our parish. For goodness sakes, we need a parish. And living for the first time in town (we won’t count Washington D.C.’s surrounding towns), we want a parish less than 25 minutes away. We’re drawn again and again to a parish we did not expect to pursue. Talking with neighbors. Blessed to have two families next to us who are faithful and traditional Christians. We’re ever searching for those families with whom we can foster friendships. In Virginia, we knew them before they were married, now they are married and we live far away. The women with whom I read this book are examples, if space does not distance us than the hectic pace of life distances us. So we keep working to find those friendships and that place within our community.

The battle for children? I shudder to think. Yes, we fought. We fought in our hearts time and again: fought to grieve, fought to accept, fought to open our hearts to the strangeness of God’s plan, fought to survive the fear that the baby would never be born. Yes, we have fought. I see my heart bloodied and in agony whenever I visit the cemetery. And I remember crying out in sorrow, kneeling, rocking on the ground on All Souls’ Day before that grave, 9 months pregnant with another child. We have fought. It says just “Baby Casey” because there never seems to be enough money to buy the tombstone.

The material battle? And what was this battle? My husband’s search for work, year after year, to find his calling. All that time it was right before him, but we were afraid to trust. We were afraid to accept the lesser income in order for him to find the great happiness of his calling. But we did accept it. I work part-time so he can build the number of students he teaches. He feels wonderful because he provides, he is valued and he contributes something that only he can contribute.

For, in fact, man and woman are not only looking outward in the same direction; they are working outward…Here one forms ties, roots, a firm base.

We continue to work. This is something we always knew. When we dated, in friendship we faced the same God with different devotions but the same desire for holiness. Now we have hardly any shreds of that life of devotion, but we are working, are pushing outward to make some success of the life we’ve been given.

Here the bonds of marriage are formed. For marriage, which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually, in this stage, many bonds, many strands, of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm.

For some reason I consider often if one of us died. I think it is because I cannot imagine such a life. We are so bound together. It felt the first child was our first bond.

The web is fashioned of love. Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship.

I think there never could have been a more romantic love…

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It is made of loyalties: I stand by him, and he to me. It is wonderful to praise him and embarrass him…

Interdependencies: He does not do dishes or laundry. I do not repair machinery, kill spiders or give bathes to children. We can do the things we never do, but we choose not to. I don’t crave independence. It is wonderful to need him.

Shared experiences: the Beetlejuice house, our honeymoon, Jamestown, biking riding to wineries for tasting, Virginia, the Christmas Attic…what a fabric they form, all complete with their inside jokes and catch-phrases.

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Memories of meetings and conflicts: Thank God the sting of those conflicts fade, but I remember them. I can remember them and think I’m grateful they passed. I’m grateful we are not the same people, even yesterday, that we are today.

Triumphs and disappointments: job interview, no call, job opportunity, no interview…

Communication, a common language, acceptance of lack of language: We know what works and what doesn’t work…the use of a look, a phrase, a sigh, the phrase, “I know you didn’t mean to, you are the best intentioned person in the world…”

Knowledge of likes and dislikes: He thinks if he really likes it than I must not like it.

Habits and reactions, both physical and mental: He says things to get a rise out of me, he acts as though he is burdened to hang shelves or pictures just so I will dote on him with gratitude, or act ridiculously bashful as I request a favor.

The bond of romance…leaps across all of them, like a rainbow—or a glance…

Katy and Kyle, October 11, 2008

If that fragile link is snapped in the storm, what will hold the halves to each other?

We would have nothing! It is so much these details, these little moments and habits, as she says, that bind us together. Otherwise, these children would undo us!

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Will we ever return? Will it ever be just us again, a little peace?

One has grown too big, too many-sided for that rigidly symmetrical shell.

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No, it can never be again. We are not the same person as we were before. Our hearts are too large. I have no idea what the future holds. The second have of the chapter meant much less to me, because the first described so deeply my current experience. But what she writes is beautiful. I’m sure the future will be beautiful. How amazing that God created this web of bonds that I might have someone to share it with!

 

 

Reflection on Gift From the Sea: Part Four

I began reading this book as an exciting venture into the world of book clubs with a good friend of mine. I did not know what to expect. When I last posted my reflections I ended with an acknowledgment of the need and will to build, refresh and restore the relationship with my little four-year old. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, appears to me, to be an amazing writer. I marvel at how it can be that Part Three drew me into reflection as it did, and then that Part Four should be almost entirely about alone-togetherness.

For the first part of every relationship is pure, whether it be with a friend or lover, husband or child. It is pure, simple and unencumbered.

The simplicity of first love, or friendliness, the mutuality of first sympathy seems, as its initial appearance—even if merely in exciting conversation across a dinner table—to be a self-enclosed world…There are no others in the perfect unity of that instant, no other people or things or interests.

Katy and Kyle, October 11, 2008

And then how swiftly, how inevitably the perfect unity is invaded; the relationship changes; it becomes complicated, encumbered by its contact with the world.

  • And then it changes. We lived our dating relationship with abandon, deep in love, working hard through issues that arose. We married and it was like a fairytale. Not more than two months after marrying I was pregnant. It was the overflow of our love. Then not two weeks after that it was over, we went to the emergency room and found out two days later I was having a miscarriage. How quickly it changed.
  • More children came. Life became busy and our world was full of school or life stress, grief and financial struggles. But between us there was still a glow, because we were a team.

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…We mistakenly feel that failure to maintain its exact original pattern is tragedy…it moves to another phase of growth which one should not dread, but welcome as one welcomes summer after spring.

  • I’m grateful to say I knew this. I have no regrets regarding this marriage of ours. We look back nostalgically and long for the day when we take the breaks, the vacations we desire to be together, just us, unencumbered.
  • I never before understood this concept relating to anything other than the romantic relationship. I did not think of that pure, original form for friendship, or for the mother-child relationship.

But woman refinds in a limited form with each new child, something resembling, at least in its absorption, the early pure relationship. In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the sense of two people existing only for each other, the tranquil sky reflected on the face of the mother nursing her child.

  • Without any significant interruptions I experience this with our eldest. From the moment I knew we were having a girl, I knew, this will be my buddy, my little sidekick.
  • We still seemed able to maintain our relationship and special moments even after the boy was born. It was a beautiful balance, once I got the hang of things. The eldest made it easier, even though she was still very young.

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  • Yet because my husband could not find full time work, we decided I needed to start working again, at least temporarily. I would go back full time. My son was eight months old. The world moved in.
  • It seemed like he never cried with me before those days. He wailed when his father held him at night, quieted when I took him back. After I began working, he wailed with either of us. I felt I no longer I had my special place with him. Our bond seemed to disappear. I went down to four days and after I was six months pregnant went back to part time. But then it seemed too late, another baby was coming.
  • And she came. When enough time passed I was able to get on the floor and play again with the boy. Our bond returned. He would now run to me, ask for me, be comforted by me. At times I still feel like I don’t know what he needs, that my husbands knows better. My heart still aches from the absence.

Actually I believe this temporary return to the pure relationship holds good for ones’ children too…Does each child not secretly long for the pure relationship he once had with the mother, when he was “The Baby,” when the nursery doors were shut and she was feeding him at the breast—alone?”

  • It was a natural change, only with us, it felt forced and happened all too soon. I must teach myself not to regret. I believe I can do so now with the words from Mrs. Lindbergh.

This is not a tragedy but part of the ever-recurrent miracle of life and growth.

  • It won’t be easy to believe it, to forgive myself when for so long I have felt as though I abandoned him. But here is an explanation for what took place. It is part of life and would have happened anyway. I have to take this wisdom and remembered it, create the special moments.

We all wish to be loved alone.

  • It isn’t enough just to have the moments alone. As she said regarding simplicity. We have to have internal simplicity, not only external simplicity. We can go away to reteach ourselves. I have to create the moments with my children. And I must savor those moments. I must allow myself to feel the intimacy of those moments, alone together.

Life must go on.

  • This is the way it should be. This is the way we can learn.

Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Three

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Part 3: Below are more quotes and reflections on this section in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Words on how now we need never be alone – truer now than ever before. So many distractions, we have endless distractions to keep us occupied. Her writing calms my breathing. I feel I am at the ocean, with the sounds of the waves in the background.

I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.

  • I love my work but I feel drained. Drained from being with people all day, from being “on,” from giving and thinking and perceiving. Drained from being in an office, the appearance of which I cannot alter beyond a program poster I find attractive and a little postcard of Van Gogh’s “First Steps.” I come home and although I ache to be with my children, I seek asylum. But then I err. Instead of seeking prayer or reading in order to be truly alone with myself, I go online, pinterest, facebook, hostess with the mostess. I find I am not refreshed.

The need to fill the pitcher to the brim, rather than spill out in driblets.

The artist, naturally, always resents giving himself in small drops.

  • I feel so selfish. I gave in driblets, again and again. Yell at the child, step away, pray for patience, come back ready to be calm and controlled. Another incident, another whine, another act of toddler resistance, ahem, toddler independence and I fall right back again. I have not thought of this act of allowing the pitcher to fill to the brim.

I believe that what a woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposelessly.

  • I find some comfort in that I do give myself purposely. I am trying to make things better. Intentionality drives me. Putting together the home, creating routine, establishing discipline.
  • Yet still, I have been purposeless these days. I have felt buried under it all. The constant whining, the battles, the inability to please and motivate.

We do not see the results of our giving as concretely as man does in his work.

  • I feel this. At work, the impact is very clear. My clients are very open to what we are about. At home, progress is so…so…spiritual, intangible. Beyond maintaining hygiene and decency, I do not feel like I see progress. I hear others praise my child, but feel she gives the worst to me. So it is draining. That phrase makes so much more sense in the context of what the author writes about. Going down the drain. Purposeless, driblets.

Purposeful giving is not as apt to deplete one’s resources; it belongs to that natural order of giving that seems to renew itself even in the act of depletion. The more one gives, the more one has to give.

  • Yes, I feel that at work, and I feel it with my younger children because it is so easy to delight them. My eldest needs my attention. She needs more purposeful giving. I can get away with driblets with the infant and the toddler, they need only my body (or so it feels) for nursing or reading or play. The boy is so unaware. It takes so little to amuse him. But the eldest, she needs companionship, someone to talk to, to smile at her. If I could just get some time alone with her.
  • I went to mass today by myself. I entered aching, ready for tears but resistant because I will no longer cry in public, scolding myself that I have a good life, a light cross and no excuse to indulge public tears, making others think, I don’t know, that someone may have died. When the Liturgy of the Eucharist began, my heart opened up. Christ was coming. I felt renewed by the end of it all, albeit not magically.

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No longer fed by a feeling of indispensability or purposefulness, we are hungry, and not knowing what we are hungry for, we fill up the void with endless distractions, always at hand—unnecessary errands, compulsive duties, social niceties.

  • She wrote this in the 1950’s and yet it more true now. We have truly endless distractions. We look for meaning in projects. Or worse, we look for an endless supply of criticisms of self for all the things I cannot do. Have I not engaged in that here? We should be realistic. We should not coddle ourselves. I hate the self-esteem movement. But we should not waste time. We should look at the source.
  • We need to see solitude as necessary.

Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of the whole web of human relationships.

  • So what if I allowed myself to heal? What if for one hour a week I took my child out for a coffee (milk in her case) and we chatted as only we ladies can do. What if I finally took the time to go to adoration. I never desired alone time before I had children. I embraced marriage and the constant companionship. I struggled when my husband needed his time alone because I then felt lonely. But I had no project, nothing to create or to love.
  • I see better now. Now, I say with smile, that I have begun writing again.

The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities.

  • I knew reading would quiet my soul, my anxiety. I know it still. Writing, thinking, laying out my thoughts as I have done here, that has really reached into the depth and brought me to life again.

Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think unwittingly lost. In other times, women had in their lives more forces which center them whether or not they realized it… their very seclusion in the home gave them time alone…Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work, even the humble kinds…must have been far more nourishing than being the family chauffeur or shopping at super-markets, or doing housework with mechanical aids.

  • I have never thought of this before and so it amazes me. My husband seeks creative pursuits in all corners: gardening, bread baking, composing, teaching our children. I see his delight in it and understand that he loves to see the finished product. Yet still I never personally derived the same pleasure from those things. My creativity centered more on aesthetics: the home, the flower arrangement, the table setting. With my engagement online I am challenging myself to use my camera properly again, to write poetically again.

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  • We have become the chauffeur. The eldest goes to preschool every day for three hours each day. We take her to and fro. I feel better now that I am using a bike and trailer for some of it. I can see what the author is saying.
  • Yet still I fear the time alone, the time without distraction because it is so difficult to get my mind to work again. I am sleep deprived. For the fourth year I am sleep deprived. Because of anxiety it is difficult to fall asleep. Because of my nature, being easily stimulated, after 4am it is difficult to stay asleep. Nursing and oxytocin act as a drug to induce me to sleep. Sometimes I cannot fall asleep until I have nursed her. I am sleep deprived. Some days I look for passive engagement. I claim I seek intelligent thought. Perhaps all this time, it is time alone I seek to allow my thoughts to full develop. Passive engagement was only a mere distraction.

She must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today… it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day—like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.

Don’t I seek a magical solution? I think: what if this is it? What is some time alone were the secret to being happy and fulfilled? I know I feel something more complete in my since I began to write more seriously. I am motivated when I see more people following what I write.

This book is opening doors.

I am an extrovert. I was lonely as a child, living in the country, always alone, a latch key child. I wrote, I thought, I imagined. When I did missionary work I discovered so much about myself. I loved to be with people. I was not an introvert but felt energized by company. I was an artist, more at home with host-families in Oregon than my less artistically-inclined, albeit wonderful, teammates.

I’ve taken this for granted. I do not want to do so anymore. Time alone, to think and to write. My first love. I wrote short stories in grade school. I began “novels” in sixth grade. I completed my last work at age 19. But writing has ever been one of my great loves

So here we are, the book and I. Something strange and new is opening up for me. I am excited to reach Part Four.

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  • Tomorrow she and I will have a painting date after preschool.

 

Reflections on Gift from the Sea, Part Two

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.

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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.

Capitola waves

“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.

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