When summer comes, I find myself getting beach fever and can hardly muster the energy and will to go to work. For 28 years, even though I was working about 15 miles from the strand itself, I could “sense” the nearness of the ocean’s roar and the sandy beach with the sea birds standing as sentinels as they looked “as one” at some sight unseen by my human eyes. Now, 130 miles away, it’s not so easy. Sure, the warm wave pools are still there, as are the squealing children, the shell seekers, and the incoming waves. It’s just not the same, though. I need a vacation, a weekend trip to the seashore.
What is the hold that a beach has on me? Whatever it is, I think it casts the same spell on millions of others as well. Last week, I came across a little book entitled Gift from the Sea that I read many years ago when I was a younger mother. There were many passages that spoke to my life and situation at the time, and when I skimmed the book yesterday, I was amazed to see all of the things I had underlined. The passages took me down memory lane as I recalled the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities and “occupations” that I had, most of them centered around the home and family. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author of this timeless volume, remarks that that saints were rarely married women because of the distractions inherent in raising children and running a house. “Human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.”
Although it was written many decades ago, the challenges and issues faced by Lindbergh are the same ones faced by women in today’s crazy, bustling world. In fact, although women in Siberia, Cameroon, or Ceylon might not have her specific set of circumstances, they can still identify with Lindbergh’s ponderings about a woman’s life, her obligations, her relationships, and her needs. She lived in an upscale suburb of Connecticut and was the mother of five children, and yet there’s something in her writing that can touch the souls of women everywhere whether in a grass hut, McMansion, or mountain shack.
The chapters in Gift from the Sea center on Lindbergh’s musings during a two-week vacation at the shore. Leaving husband, children, and house behind, she lives in a bare beach cabin without heat, telephone, plumbing, hot water, rugs, or curtains. Loving her simple beach life, Lindbergh takes a shell at a time and describes it in relation to other things in a woman’s life. For instance, the moon shell reminds her that quiet time, solitude, contemplation, and “something of one’s own” is needed. The double-sunrise represents the pure relationship found in early stages of friendship and marriage, and she reminds the reader that there is no permanent return to an old form of relationship since all are in the process of change. The oyster bed symbolizes the middle years of marriage and family, especially as the home itself grows and expands to accommodate the growing family.
Now in midlife, I can better understand her affinity for all the shells as reminders that each cycle of the wave, the tide, and the relationship is valid. When Lindbergh leaves her seaside home away from home, she sweeps several shells into her pocket to remind her that the sea recedes and returns eternally. The shells serve as her “island eyes” and remind her of lessons learned about solitude, closeness to nature, life of the spirit, and the cycles of human relationships. I probably have a hundred or more shells at home, most of which are on my back porch. Thanks to re-reading this book, now I can better understand their significance and symbolism.
As a P.S., my DH and I are going to Myrtle Beach for a few days during the week of the Fourth. I think he’s planning to play golf, read, and eat shrimp and oystsers. I’m planning to read, walk, relax, and people watch ON THE BEACH. And yes, I have plenty of sunscreen, Doc.