Tag Archives: Anne Morrow Lindbergh

All Vulnerability and Sweetness

41“Around the house with a lantern to look at the sleeping children and put on an extra cover. The miser’s hour for a mother—she looks at her gold and gloats over it!”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, WAR WITHIN AND WITHOUT, p. 223

 

 

I love this image of Anne. It was 1941 and Charles was away on a trip. She was alone with their three young children in their small rented cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. I can imagine her creeping through the house late at night on her way to bed after she’s written in her diary. She pulls the edges of a sweater draped over her shoulders closer to her throat against the evening’s chill with one hand while she holds a lantern with the other. The children will need extra cover.

As she spreads an extra blanket over each one she pauses to look at the face of each sleeping child: Jon. Land. Anne.

What is it about a sleeping child? There is nothing like it to a parent. For one thing, no matter what he or she was like during the day—he could have been the reincarnation of Dennis the Menace—all melts away and is forgotten. The sight of a child’s face in slumber will do that. It is all vulnerability and sweetness.

My own son is eleven now and nearly as tall as I am. I am aware every day of how quickly he is growing up. But when I steal into his room for a last look at night and see his face resting in profile on his pillow, I am struck by how young he really is. Void of expression his features soften and remind me of the little face of not so long ago, emanating trust and innocence—and I realize that despite his rapid changes he has not been on this planet for very long at all.

Gazing at the face of my sleeping child is like time freezing for just a little bit. I get to behold, for a moment, the child he has been in the person he is becoming. Perhaps this is why Anne likens the experience to a miser gloating over his gold. Having lost a child, she knows the transitory nature of life.

Part of each of us, down deep, wishes we could hold onto our children and keep them young forever. We want to keep them close and safe. But we also know, down deep, that they will only be in our care for a time. They are a gift to us only temporarily. We treasure them, we let our hearts fill at the sight of them, we do all we can to enable them to blossom and grow. And then we open our hands, and—when they are ready—we let them go.

Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, by Kim Jocelyn Dickson

The Pilot, the Poet, and their Passion

ferr600span“The feeling of exultant joy that there is anyone like that in the world…Clouds and stars and birds–I must have been walking with my head down looking at puddles for twenty years.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, BRING ME A UNICORN, p. 99

 

Anne was a twenty-one year old senior at Smith when she had an encounter that would change her life. It was December of 1927 and the Morrow family was spending the Christmas holidays together in Mexico City, where Anne’s father served as U.S. ambassador. It had been just seven months since Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo flight that rocked the world. Now, at the invitation of Ambassador Morrow, and in the interest of strengthening relations between the United States and Mexico, Lindbergh was coming to spend the holidays with the Morrow family. And he was about to rock Anne’s world too.

Until this point, Anne’s world had included only the New England upper class–the well-to-do, highly educated, and intellectual—her parents’ people. Charles was different and he took her breath away. This shy “clear, direct, straight boy”[i] who said little but accomplished much, stood in sharp contrast to all the other men she’d known. Next to Charles—an independent, courageous, sincere, forthright man of action—all the articulate, well-read, sophisticated, pretentious suitors Anne had known paled. His directness, his economy of words, his lack of pretense, and his sheer masculine presence bowled Anne over.

In her world people read about and discussed things. In Charles Lindbergh’s world, people did them.

The attraction between Anne and Charles was instantaneous and mutual, but it would be several months before Charles called for a date. In the fall of 1928, he invited Anne to fly with him. Within a few months they were engaged, and in May of 1929 they married.

Despite their whirlwind courtship, Anne was racked with doubts, and she agonized over their relationship: “It is a dream and a mistake. We are utterly opposed.” [ii] She was introspective; he was a man of action. She was an incessant reader; he rarely cracked a book, his idea of good poetry was that of the lowbrow, sentimental Robert Service, and he didn’t even get the cartoons in The New Yorker magazine. She was Ivy League; he was a college dropout. She was a dreamer; he was practical.

Yet underneath it all there was a powerful attraction. As their daughter Reeve said years later, their marriage was inevitable.[iii]

Indeed it was. For what was at the heart of the attraction between Anne and Charles was a deep, unconscious connection: their emotional similarity.

Years later Anne described a conversation she and Charles had with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at a party in Paris before the war. The four compared notes on the isolation and indignation they suffered because of their fame: “…a pair of unicorns meeting another pair of unicorns.”[iv]

Anne’s self-identified image of the unicorn—an elusive magical creature—was one that would recur in Anne’s literary work. The volume of diaries and letters that contained her first meeting of Charles was entitled Bring Me a Unicorn. Her only published volume of poetry, The Unicorn, included a long poem called “The Unicorn in Captivity”, which was inspired by a tapestry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the poem Anne described a hunted, fenced in, bound, and wounded creature who found his freedom internally—an image that resonated deeply with her.

The themes of captivity and freedom surfaced again and again in the Lindberghs’ lives. This appeared to be because of the relentless pressure of fame. Incessant publicity held them captive, rendering them unable to move freely. Flying and escaping to far corners of the world granted them the freedom they craved.

I believe that for Anne and Charles, though, the pull toward freedom and away from captivity stemmed from origins far deeper than the world of fame they inhabited as adults. Their identification with the wounded creature was rooted in the pain and “captivity” of emotional isolation they each experienced as children.

Charles’s parents were estranged during his childhood, but they never divorced. At a young age he was forced to assume adult responsibilities and was expected to grow up quickly. One senses that there was no one really there to take care of him. Living in a chronically painful situation, Charles learned early not to feel things. Action became his means of escape.

Anne had a family that appeared to offer every possible good thing to its children, but her childhood, too, was marked by emotional deprivation. She was expected to grow up to be just like her mother—a woman who was uncomfortable with her own feelings and who avoided them through nonstop social activity and philanthropy. Anne was not supported in becoming herself.

When Anne and Charles met that December in Mexico, each of them unconsciously recognized themselves in each other. A unicorn meeting another unicorn. A powerful attraction.

In her novel, The Names of the Mountains, Reeve Lindbergh told a fictionalized version of her aging mother’s gradual decline. Anne—through the character Alicia in the story—said marriage was “…both an escape from and a reflection of the marriage in which each partner was raised.”[v]

For Anne, marriage to Charles was certainly both. He offered an escape from the intellectualized, protective, and confined world of her parents. Charles offered adventure and a chance for her to shift from the life of the mind to the life of the body. Anne’s decision to marry Charles stretched her in ways she might never have known had she not taken the leap.

What she didn’t realize, though, was that she was marrying into the same emotional reality that she had grown up with. Life with Charles may have looked different externally, but emotionally, she would discover, he was every bit as detached as her own parents.

The mystery of attraction is really not so mysterious after all. More and more, I believe that we are attracted to people—romantically or otherwise—at this deeply unconscious level. There is something about the person we are attracted to, below the flow of words and actions, that—no matter how different from us they may appear—is familiar. That reminds us of what we already know.

Not only do we find relationships that replicate the emotional reality we knew growing up, we also manage to create circumstances that repeat it, too. Anne married a man who mirrored the emotional distance and exacting demands of her parents. She also found herself in circumstances, due to her celebrity, in which she had to struggle against feelings of isolation, misperceptions, and captivity–evoking a sense of reality not unlike that of a little girl whose identity and value is not perceived accurately by those around her.

As adults we recreate the hurts of childhood to get a second chance to work them out and be free of them. And we do all this without realizing it, of course. What is deepest and truest in us is wiser than our conscious self and longs for us to be healed.

But healing doesn’t come automatically, nor does it come easily.

We gain our second chance only when we have the courage to allow this deeper knowledge to come into the light. This requires the slow, painful work of choosing to understand ourselves and the reality of our history. Only then can the present circumstances—the marriage, the difficult situation—be apprehended in its proper perspective and be transformed.

Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, by Kim Jocelyn Dickson

[i] Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Bring Me a Unicorn (New York, Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1971) p. 99.

[ii] Ibid. p. 224.

[iii] Reeve Lindbergh, interview in “ Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh” A&E’s Biography, April 2, 2000.

[iv] Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Flower and the Nettle (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), p. 510.

[v] Reeve Lindbergh, The Names of the Mountains (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992) p. 101.

Trust Your Apathy

images
“I am beginning to respect the apathetic days. Perhaps they are a necessary pause: better to give in to them than to fight them at your desk hopelessly; then you lose both the day and your self-respect. Treat them as physical phenomena–casually–and obey them.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, LOCKED ROOMS, OPEN DOORS, p. 276

 

I love this advice. It so goes against the unspoken rule in our culture to grit your teeth and slog on, no matter what.

Feeling tired, sad, or depressed? Get over it. Better yet, take Prozac. And then get over it. At all costs, keep busy, keep moving, keep achieving. Don’t slow down or you’ll never get where you want to be. And the guy behind you will overtake you and get ahead of you.

Who can deny we are an externally motivated culture, taught from early on to move away from the feelings that connect us to our spirituality and inner voice?

Anne struggled with apathy around writing her first book after the kidnapping and death of her son. Her family legacy and that of her husband, Charles, was to suppress pain through action. All of them dealt with difficult feelings by moving away from them. Her parents were wrapped up in public service, and Charles literally moved away from his own grief by taking to the air. Anne was encouraged from all sides to put the loss of her baby behind her by busying herself writing her book.

But she knew that was not the answer.

Anne’s lack of energy for writing, no doubt, was due to the loss of her child and her isolation in her grief. She couldn’t share her sadness with the people closest to her in any meaningful way, and so she worked her feelings out by writing in her diary and confiding in her closest friends.

During this period Anne learned that she had to pay attention to her inner rhythms. For her, learning to go with one’s internal energy flow was like sailing. You can’t force a boat to go further into the wind than it can without losing momentum and your bearings. The only thing to do is give it its head. It will swing and swing and suddenly catch the wind, bite into it and go. You may have to tack back to get on course, but ultimately you get there more quickly. For Anne, the road to writing her book was through her grief. She couldn’t step around it; she had to go through it.

I have often felt that if I lacked energy for doing something I needed or wanted to do that meant it would never be there. Whether it’s the energy for doing something as important to me as writing this book or something as trivial as trimming trees in my yard, any lull in motivation meant the energy would be gone forever; the thing would never happen. I have come to see that energy for any particular thing, like so much in life, simply ebbs and flows. There may be obvious reasons for it–as in one’s energy being tied up in grieving the loss of a loved one–or the reasons may be more mysterious. Maybe the time is just not right.

What is becoming clearer to me is that I can trust my internal inclinations. When I am impelled to do one thing and not another that may even appear to make more sense, I have learned to go with my impulse. When I do, I find, just as in Anne’s sailing metaphor, that while the path may be less direct, I get to my goal more quickly. And I avoid the wasted doldrums of guilt and self-chastisement and “I should be doing such and such.”

Recently I’d been sitting at my computer writing for four hours. I stopped for lunch and began to think about the things I needed to do in the afternoon: go to the bank, get the tires on the car rotated, exchange a scarf I needed for a wedding, stop at the grocery store. Yawn. I was exhausted from sitting and concentrating all morning and felt no desire to do all those things. Yet they needed to be done. I really wanted to get outside–it was a gorgeous, sunny eighty-degree day–and be in the water. And so I did. I went for a swim, dipped in the Jacuzzi, sunned for a while, and relaxed. Two hours later I was rested, showered, and able to do my errands easily. Had I pushed myself to do them first I would have felt tired, cranky, and put-upon. My little detour ended up being just the thing I needed to help me reach my goal.

A list of errands may be a small thing, but I find the principle holds true for the bigger things as well. When, like Anne, I “trust my apathy” and stop to consider what I really want and need in any moment, I hold life and life holds me much more graciously.

[Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh]