“Woman must come of age by herself…
She must find her true center alone.”
That’s the pervading message of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic book: a woman must find herself, define herself, in the crowded chaos of daily life. A Gift From the Sea is a meditation on life, on love, on relationships, on parenthood, but above all it’s about what it means to be a woman. Lindbergh draws inspiration from two weeks spent alone at the beach, in a simple, run-down cottage that she’s rented to reconnect with herself. Leaving her husband and children and day-to-day responsibilities behind, she embraces her new-found solitude, using the time to reflect and write. The book is, in addition to being a treatise on modern-day womanhood (albeit a 1950s-era version), a love letter to the cleansing and healing power of the sea, the sand, the ocean air. The ocean and its treasures, lessons and wisdom serve to frame her reflections–each chapter uses a different type of shell as a metaphor for the things Lindbergh is talking about, and she often finds inspiration in the things she sees each day.
I was given this book at a very timely moment in my life: my college graduation party. A close family friend gave it to me, and that couldn’t be more fitting: I’ve known her since I was two, and she is, as a result, one of the most influential women in my life. It took me a while to pick it up, though, and I can’t really figure out why (that’s a lie, actually–my never-ending pile/list of “to-reads” is the reason). I firmly believe in books coming to you when you’re ready for them, and I’m not sure I was in the right frame of mind in my chaotic post-college daze to appreciate the wisdom this book offers. Now, over two years later, Lindbergh’s struggles to find balance, independence, and strength as a woman amidst the business of day-to-day life is something I can identify with much more strongly. It also helps that my relationship with my boyfriend has grown and changed dramatically in that time, and so the emphasis on what it means to be a true partner in a mature and stable relationship resonates in a way that I don’t think it would have two years ago.
All that being said, it’s truly remarkable to me that a book written in the 1950’s as a treatise on womanhood could be so relevant six decades later. There were, as is to be expected, a few moments where I was reminded of the limitations Lindbergh and other woman of the era faced (she makes it clear that most women, especially of her social class, were housewives, with few professional opportunities), but on the whole, the message of the book transcends any single time period. I loved that, and it made me feel a comforting sense of connection to Lindbergh, to her contemporaries, to my mother and the family friend who gave me the book (they both read it when they were around my age), to my grandmother (who Lindbergh reminded me of), to all of the other women struggling to define themselves, to express themselves, to be who they were meant to be. I don’t often write in my books, just because defacing that creamy-white paper feels like a sin somehow, but I broke my rule for this one, underlining and starring passages all over the place. This book feels like a mantra, and it’s one of those very few that I knew, as soon as it was over, that I’d be revisiting time and time again for the rest of my life. I look forward to picking it up in a year, or ten, or fifty, and seeing the notes I scribbled to myself when I was just twenty-four and figuring it all out, re-reading Lindbergh’s words and finding new meaning in them.
It’s rare that a book affects me on such a profound level, makes me think and inspires me to strive for the things that I want while reassuring me that it’s possible to do so, even with a family and friends and daily obligations. A Gift From the Sea should be required reading for all women, of all ages, because it just says it all in a way I’ve never quite seen before.