I’ve referenced Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s A Gift from the Sea on here before. It’s been one of my favorite gifts to give, and I pick up something soul-softening from it each time I grab it from my shelf. I’m having a Lindbergh kind of month. I’m sewing these thoughts with images of valuable moments I’ve had with my family since it’s the pause after these moments that confirm my conviction that both men and women, especially those stirring with something else to give, need to be still.
Written in 1955, a time ridden with a need for all kinds of progress, A Gift from the Sea represents the beginning of a conversation. Lindbergh says “If it is a woman’s function to give, she must replenish too. But how? Solitude, says the moon shell. Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometimes during the year, some part of each week, and each day…If women were convinced that a day off or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it.”
The good news is that we catch sentences like, “I need some alone time,” or “time to think,” or “a moment to myself.” The suggestion to drive to Starbucks and have some time “to read or think” is common over book club dinners or when women gather around kids during a snack break, but is this enough?
I’ve heard of moms taking trips to visit friends alone, but I rarely hear of moms who have small kids going away alone for a week. So easy can the mind understand the need for this, and yet so quickly a decision like that can bring so much judgment. It’s so hard to say you need stillness for yourself when that simultaneously suggests that you want time away from your sweet family and that you may be inadvertently alienating your spouse. It would be much easier if we could taste what Lindbergh suggests and be with our family at the same time. God knows if it were as simple as that, we’d all do it. If we could take it in pill form, we’d do it.
I think it’s truly challenging for a new mom to take any real break for herself. A quiet trip to the grocery store or a child’s nap-time seems pretty satisfying during those early years. For example, I took a 6-month break from my book club when Layla was first born just because I felt I owed it to her to be with her any second away from work, and I couldn’t stand burdening my family. It sounds so silly now that I felt one night a month would cause such a disaster. This underlying feeling, however, mists over all my decisions still even though it’s not in its concentrate anymore.
But now Layla is five, and Zade is three. I feel more responsible to quench the restlessness than I did just a year ago. I feel ready. Lindbergh says, “Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships. She must find that inner stillness which Charles Morgan describes as “the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still.”
Lindbergh’s ideas are what humans inherently know in their guts, what common sense tells us so easily, but we fight it with reason, and we balance it against what we’ve given and what we still have to do. We should know by looking back that it’s never a good thing to numb a part of you that knows something is wrong.
I’ve spent the last two weeks craving severely an inner stillness, and yet I’m the one who plans the family calendar. I’ve spent the last week after work secretly yearning for the hour on my treadmill that is both physical and passive—a subverted gesture at getting something back. And it’s not as simple as my husband taking the kids out for a few hours. In fact, that somehow put’s a tiny bandage on a cut, and the excess spills into the moment.
The “time” is tainted with the litany to do when all I truly need is a moratorium on all the stuff. I need to be truly lost in something creative; I need that time where “one is forced against one’s mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the seashore…one becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the seas; bare.” And, the beauty of all this is when at some moment “the mind wakes and comes to life again.”
I believe the sacrifice of not having this time leaves us searching blindly to “bring back a sense of identity.” We may seek it in already-established roles in motherhood or marriage and in old and new friends, but Lindbergh urges, “can one actually find oneself in someone else? In someone else’s love? Or even in the mirror someone else holds up for one?” She suggests that “the true identity is found, as Eckhart once said, by “going into one’s own ground and knowing oneself.” It is found in creative activity springing from within…paradoxically, when one loses oneself. One must lose one’s life to find it.”
Over the next year, I’m going to make this happen somehow. Soon to be crossed off my bucket list is an adventure trip to the Grand Canyon to celebrate 20 years of friendship with my two best childhood friends. Planning a road trip to Savannah and dreaming up a retreat with Andrea are tacked to the wall, displaying inescapable goals. There are a thousand reasons not to, but this time I’m going to be the change so I can be a stronger pillar while my family changes, too.
As I wrap up this post, I’d like to add that it wasn’t written behind the quiet of a desk with a lamp-glow softening my ideas; it was written with kids and life folding into it the way one folds fruit with yogurt or prepares creme for a cake.