A long, long time ago, in a decade far, far away, Kris Kristofferson made an album (you know, a vinyl thing with grooves in it that, when properly played, emitted music) called Jesus Was a Capricorn. On this album, he wrote a tribute song to musicians ranging from Johnny Cash to the Eagles. One song was called “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” and the core lyric was:
“And if you don’t like Hank Williams, son –well you can kiss my ass.”
And so begins my journey with Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. This has been a long, long, journey for me. I don’t really know when this slim volume came to be so intertwined
with my soul. I have read it many times, during many different phases of my life. Now, it is a part of my life.
Let me paint you a picture of my journey.
I first picked up this Gift when I was young and full of incandescent surety that I would one day take my place with the literary giants – the Faulkners and Fitzgeralds of the world. Only the arrogance of youth and health allows such dreams. And what a time for dreaming! We had nothing and wanted less. I vividly recall the duplex with the corner picture windows – wood-paned and propped open with a sash of wood to let the hot breezes flow through the small rooms. How I loved those windows, which looked out on a run-down street destined to flood at every hard rain. No curtains – white sheets with brown polka dots tacked up with push pins served well enough to hold off prying eyes. The small half-duplex had hard wood floors, peeling linoleum, and no air conditioning. It was a hand-me down place where three people and a border collie named Ben lived a surprisingly happy life. We had nothing. And we wanted nothing. I rocked my baby in a creaky rocking chair and scribbled bits and pieces of my literary masterpiece that never was on an endless stream of steno notebooks. I picked up the Gift and read it with the eyes of youth, arrogance, and astounding literary acumen. My soul was not ready. We were living as simply as subsistence would allow – and the time for navel gazing had come and gone in a haze of youthful indulgence, swept neatly away by the first dawning of motherhood. Lindbergh had nothing to offer me at twenty-two. She was bundled off to Goodwill in a sudden move, not to be thought of again during those years when I lived from small apartment to smaller, but nicer, apartment and my child grew and I sipped tea and scribbled poetry into cheap blank books purchased at the local dime store.
Time ran short and ambition to achieve took on a more worldly look as my literary masterpiece was bundled into the bottom drawer of a desk that is now long gone. I got a real job. I had other real problems. The pin pricks of time had allowed the incandescence to seep away, leaving my soul dark and fearful. Something empty cried out for help. A vague recollection of the Gift sent me to a bookstore to buy another copy. I read it on the back porch of a house that somehow had become my prison, with my cocker spaniel at my feet. Rufus only knew two words – his name, Rufus, and “food”. I envied Rufus his lack of awareness, thinking him happier than I. But I plowed through the Gift, and wrote furiously in my journal, trying to find within myself even the desire for grace. I looked in every corner of my soul, barren with disappointment and disillusion. I still have those journals. They are not a pretty sight. But I found no Gift. No matter how deeply I
sought, I found no insight.The Gift was once again bundled off to Goodwill during a rather sudden move in one of those strange left turns that life, at some time or another, always takes. But something stayed with me, I believe. I could not really identify it, but it was enough to make me write 10-page journal entries, seeking to find in myself what I had found in that slim volume.
Time again passed, and happiness and sadness and birth and death created new lines across my soul. The time of ambition has passed in my life – I know that I will never be more than I am not, professionally. My mind
again takes a literary turn and half-thought-out storyboards begin to appear on my desk. I am back to reading a wide range of genres and, sometime in the last two years I stumbled across Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I found it to be a worthy read with some good thoughts, but put off any soul-searching because walking across that desert did not sound very appealing. Then, bit by bit, old things became new. Music found its way back into my life and scraps of paper began to have doodles and sayings and poems scribbled in my time-altered but inimitable scrawl. And I flipped open my Kindle last week and read the first few pages of The Happiness Project. How worthy and
precise – little action items with little check marks in order to be a better person.
But I am not a woman of action. I am a woman of ideas. I cannot bind myself to the chains of a progress chart and find a better me. I must seek elsewhere. So, again, I bought a copy of Gift from the Sea. It is the fourth time I have purchased it.
Unlike most of my book purchases, which nowadays are electronic, I bought the hard-cover 50th anniversary edition. Why? So I could pencil my notes in the margin before I scribble furiously into my journal, which is still a terrible read.
But the answer that I seek so vigorously has always been on page 11:
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. . .One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea”
All the ideas that have shaped me are there, deep in the ocean of my soul. I will not dredge recklessly, hoping to stir up gold with the mud. Instead, I will card the wool of my soul with a sand dollar and spin the cloth of my dreams on a spindle of driftwood.
I have read the criticism of Lindbergh and shrug off the feminists who cry that her vision of American womanhood is reflective of her time. The Gift is not prophecy for the future. It is not a guidebook. It is not anything but the idea that, deep
within each of us, a pearl lies patiently. My pearl, in particular, has been remarkably patient. But never again will the Gift from the Sea be bundled off summarily to Goodwill. It will be dog-eared, annotated, and lovingly shelved in the living room, for all to see.
And if you don’t like Anne Lindbergh, son – well, you can. . .
Hearts. . .there are not enough hearts in the world