Anne Lindbergh:poet of the inner life

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 rele- vance 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 jobs.

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 peform 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.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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