Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Gift from the Sea

This summer cottage rich in books, many of which I’ve read and identified with summers here. From Nancy Drew to Gun, Germs and Steel to Wendell Berry poetry. One little gem of a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh is called "A Gift From the Sea."

I read this book  years and years ago and found it charming and just right for the time and place. It’s a series of short pieces inspired by her summers at the seaside, not here in Michigan, but it could have been. I was wondering if it would hold up and it did and more. Her reflections on how to balance life’s business and busyness with summer’s invitation to “lie empty, choiceless as a beach, waiting for a gift from the sea” is both profound and timely for people in all times and places. It was written in 1955, when I imagine the world was simpler, but in some ways, maybe not. 

Amidst many quotable sections, I was struck by her words in her parting chapter, especially in light of my own recent post on Newsscapes. Here is what she wrote 65 years ago:

Today a kind of planetal point of view has burst upon mankind. The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations.

Mind you, this was when television was in its infancy and we were light years away from 24/7 news stations and instant Internet updates. In the decade when it seemed like the Leave It to Beaver suburban lives were indeed distant from the world’s tensions, conflicts and sufferings. She goes on:

But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print; and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The inter-relatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather—for I believe the heart is infinite—modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. 

Are you as astounded by these words as I am? How succinctly she captures what so many of us are feeling as we watch the murder of George Floyd over and over, see the Portland Moms and Dads and veterans and grandparents getting tear-gassed by government orders. How do we hold this all in our heart and still go on with our day?

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. I cannot care for them all as I do with my family, as I would my parents in illness or old age. Our grandmothers lived in a circle small enough to let them implement in action most of the impulses of their hearts and minds. That tradition has now become impossible, for we have extended our circle throughout space and time.

Faced with this dilemma, what can we do?

She makes some suggestions, but wouldn’t this be a good topic of conversation at your next dinner party? Live or on Zoom? What do you do? How do you balance compassionate concern with attention to the reality of your lived moment? As E.B. White asks in my little side intro,  “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. “

Indeed, how do you plan the day? Let's talk.





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