Tag Archives: connection

“When one finds a person who has the same thought as yours…”

When one finds a person who has the same thought as yours you cry out for joy, you go and shake him by the hand. Your heart leaps as though you were walking in a street in a foreign land and you heard your own language spoken, or your name in a room full of strangers.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: WAR WITHIN AND WITHOUT, p. 33

A picture of a young Anne Morrow Lindbergh sits on my desk. I clipped it from a second-hand bookstore copy of Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead and put it in a brass frame that once belonged to my grandmother. The picture of Anne’s sad face, photographed shortly after the kidnappingand murder of her baby boy, has been a companion for years. It sat on my desk when I lived in Princeton, New Jersey, and it is here on my desk in Southern California, where I live now, right next to a photograph of my grandmother.

It was my grandmother’s copy of Gift from the Sea that introduced me to Anne Morrow Lindbergh. This first edition teal-and-white volume rested untouched on a bookshelf at my parents’ home for years after my grandmother’s death when I was ten. During my teenage years I spent hours talking to my friends on the phone that hung on the wall next to this bookcase. I gazed at the binding of this book nearly every evening as I chatted, connecting to my friends, the world outside my family. Sometimes I even picked it up and looked at it, mildly curious about the woman married to the man for whom my high school was named. But I was not curious enough to read it. Not then anyway.

It wasn’t until my twenties–when I was home on vacation from graduate school at Princeton Seminary and preoccupied about my vocational future and a man in my life–that I pulled the book out to read. I was absorbed immediately. Maybe enchanted was more like it. It wasn’t just what she said–which spoke right to me–it was the way she said it. There was beauty in the way she used words. As I read on I was moved further.

Sparingly etched in blue ink throughout the book were underlines and an occasional exclamation mark: “The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong…” [i] and “Woman must be the pioneer in this turning inward for strength…” [ii] and “…women need solitude to find the true essence of themselves…” [iii]

The markings were in my grandmother’s handwriting. It had been more than twenty years since her eyes and hand had swept across these same pages, but at that moment I felt she was with me. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s words became a bridge for me, linking me to this woman I had loved so much and lost.

Discovering who my grandmother was through Anne’s words was important to me because in some way that seemed to tell me more about who I was too. It was reassuring to know that the grandmother who had meant so much to me when I was small thought about her inner life. Maybe this was why I’d felt so connected to her as a child.

When you find a person who has the same thought as yours, you want to get to know her better. My grandmother was gone, but there was much more I would learn about Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

After reading Gift from the Sea, I searched for anything and everything I could find by or about her. Most of Anne’s books were available at the Princeton public library, fortunately; they were nearly impossible to own, though, because nearly everything but Gift from the Sea and her one book of poetry, The Unicorn, were out of print. I became well acquainted with second-hand bookstores, and occasionally was lucky enough to find one of her books. Then the man I married conducted an all-out nationwide search–in the days before the Internet existed, mind you–and, amazingly, unearthed every hardcover volume I didn’t already own, surprising me with them for a wedding present. My collection was complete.

The dearth of availability was a mystery to me. While Gift from the Sea continued to sell millions all over the world and had become an inspirational classic, what about the rest of her work? Why was it out of print? And why was practically nothing written about her?

I discovered Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s work when I was a seminary student, struggling to learn more about the meaning of life and God–and myself. Privileged to be attending one of the best theological schools in the country, I studied with professors who were world-renowned and read widely in fields as diverse as psychology, philosophy, education, theology, Biblical studies, women’s studies, and history. But what I kept coming back to, what I really wanted to read, was more of Anne. Her work touched not only my mind, but my heart, too.

I was fascinated by the life she led. As a major twentieth-century figure married to an American icon, she was both a player in and witness to some of the most important historical events of her time. But what was even more remarkable than that, to me, was her inner life. Here was a woman who, in the eyes of the outside world, seemed to have it all. Raised with all the advantages her wealthy parents could give her, Ivy League educated, married to the most popular man in the world, she was talented and successful in her own right and became a best-selling author. But this wasn’t the whole picture.f866fe37c963cf1e832e8e69a006cfe3

The rest of the picture–the picture that emerged as I read her published diaries and letters, is that of a woman who was alienated from herself, who struggled to understand herself, her relationships, and her place in the world. I saw a woman who had not arrived, but was on a journey–a journey toward self-awareness.

Anne’s body of literary work follows the same theme: The journey of spiritual awareness–of coming home to yourself. Whether it’s her poetry, her prose, or her personal writings in her diaries and letters, she takes her reader by the hand, and graciously, companionably, points the way: Take the inner road, she says. The answers are inside you. My Post-It note-marked, scribbled in, underlined, and highlighted five volumes of Anne’s diaries and letters are scattered here on my desk today, right alongside my pictures of Anne and my grandmother. Bring Me a Unicorn; Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead; Locked Rooms and Open Doors; The Flower and the Nettle; and War Within and Without. These dog-eared, slightly yellowed, tattered book jacketed copies were second- hand to begin with, but they are treasures to me nonetheless, for what they meant to me as a young woman who was on the threshold of self-discovery and what they mean to me still.

Coming across Anne in these books was like meeting someone who spoke the same language I did. Her reflections resonated deep inside me: Yes. I know just what you mean. When I read Anne’s diaries and letters I felt less alone. Here was someone who struggled with the same things I struggled with, who put into words things I felt but could not articulate, who reminded me of some knowledge dormant inside me: that the things I long for are already within me. And who, by her example, gave me courage to get on with my own inner journey.

And so I did, and I’d like to share some of it with you. The passages you will read from Anne’s diaries and letters are thoughts of hers that I’ve returned to again and again over the past twenty years. These are the reflections and observations that leapt out at me, that something inside me said yes to. I wasn’t always conscious of why these thoughts seemed so true during my earliest readings. But as the years have gone by and I have understood more about myself, I understand more about her, too. The truth that I apprehended only dimly as a young woman has become clearer with time and self-awareness.

And so I offer one woman’s take on Anne Morrow Lindbergh–who she was and what her legacy is. I hope that in my personal reflections on Anne’s life and words and wisdom, you too may hear your own language spoken. Or your name in a room full of strangers.

(Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 2002, 2014, copyright Kim Jocelyn Dickson)

[i] Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea (New York: Pantheon, 1955) p. 29.
[ii] Ibid. p. 57.

[iii] Ibid. p. 50.

The Way Life Should Be

imagesYour summer place. Have you ever worried that you might not get back there?

“I am writing you in the desperate feeling that we will never get to North Haven. I have felt superstitious about it from the beginning because I have counted on it overmuch all summer long: the quiet and apartness and all of you, and the feeling of being completely alone and natural and oneself…”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: HOUR OF GOLD, HOUR OF LEAD, p. 72

Anne was a newly married bride of twenty-four when she wrote these words to her mother. After the wedding and honeymoon in May she and Charles had barely touched back down to earth. His involvement in the aviation industry beckoned him from all quarters of the country. It was an exciting time for Anne, joining him in these ventures. She was meeting new people, seeing parts of the country she’d never seen before, and adjusting to life with her new husband. But she missed her family and longed for something familiar and secure in the midst of her new transient life.

Since she was a young girl, Anne had vacationed with her family in the summer on the island of North Haven, just off the coast of Maine. Their large summer “cottage” overlooked Penobscot Bay with a view to the blue Camden Hills on the mainland. For Anne, North Haven offered a retreat, a chance to be with her family away from the usual rhythms of life. Whether North Haven delivered long, lazy summer days in the cool clear sunshine or cozy indoor hours by the fire as squalls swirled outside, the Morrow summer home was a refuge. Here, Anne’s parents were relieved from some of the pressures of their busy lives and the family was free to simply be.

This first summer of her marriage Anne feared she might not get there. For the first time she experienced the tug of the needs of her husband on one hand and the pull of her family on the other. It was a tension she would feel always. Becoming caught in what others close to her wanted from her, to the extent that she had difficulty claiming what she wanted for herself, was a familiar place.

In the midst of this dynamic, however, I’m sure that Anne herself longed to get back to North Haven that summer.

If you’ve ever been to North Haven you’d understand why.

When I lived on the East Coast I had a friend whose family owned two summer cottages on North Haven. My friend, Laurel, had grown up spending summers on the island, just as Anne had. One summer she invited me and a few other friends to go to North Haven for a long weekend. I was just discovering Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s books, so I already knew of the island and was thrilled for the opportunity to go.

It turned out to be beyond my ability to imagine. A sign posted along the highway just past the state line says: “Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” That captures perfectly the way I have come to feel about North Haven. Over the next several summers, the island would be a yearly vacation retreat for me and a group of friends from Princeton.

Regardless of the weather, North Haven was magical. Otherworldly. Whether cloudy and rainy and shrouded in mists of purple, blue, and gray, or bathed in sunshine and cool crystalline air, the deep green pines stood out against the wild rocky shore and beckoned you to come closer, go deeper. The scent of pine and sea filled your lungs and you felt more alive than ever.

Our trip was the same from year to year. The ferry delivered us into the arms of the harbor and gently let us go. We drove through fields of blue lupine and grazing cows to get to our cottage. The lilacs by the porch would still be in bloom. I’d cut some for the table that night. We’d unpack, stopping every couple of minutes to look out the bedroom window into the cove just yards from the front door. Across the cove, the sun would just be beginning to dip behind the Camden Hills in a spectacular display of reds, oranges, pinks, and magentas. We’d all stop what we were doing to rush out to the dock to watch. This became one of our rituals on the island.

We had others, and a sort of routine emerged. Since there were so few distractions on the island we’d make up our own. First were the lazy mornings. People would rise whenever they felt like it. Someone would make coffee, and there were usually a few people sitting on the porch drinking it, reading novels, and having leisurely conversations. Someone might cook a big breakfast, or we might fend for ourselves when hunger struck. Grape-Nuts and muffins were perfect. Once children came along, breakfasts became a bit more official. After breakfast, someone might take a walk or a bike ride. Or go sailing. Or row across the cove to the spit of rocks to dig mussels for dinner. Or sunbathe. The water in the cove was too cold to swim in, but Laurel took one quick dip every year. She’d been doing it since she was a little girl.

Lunch was a loose affair, too. A pot of homemade soup sat on the stove, ready whenever we were. Afterward there might be naps outside in the sun. Someone might make a trip to town to restock supplies at Waterman’s, the only general store on the island, or to pick up lobster, fresh from this morning’s haul, for dinner that night. We’d scatter alone or in couples or small groups to do whatever we felt like. But late afternoon brought a ritual nobody wanted to miss.

As the sun dipped lower and the air grew cooler, we pulled on our sweaters and took up our mallets. The lawn in front of the cottage that sloped to the edge of the cove became our croquet court. It was happy hour. Steve would roll out the old battered wooden wagon of some child long ago and set up the bar. Gin and tonics. Margaritas. Take your pick. Music rolled out over the lawn–James Taylor, maybe, or the soundtrack to “The Big Chill.” As a matter of fact, sometimes we felt we were living “The Big Chill.” We’d sip our drinks; we’d savor the sunset; we’d dance and sing along to the music; we’d have no mercy for each other on the court, sending each other’s croquet balls off into oblivion and evoking the ooga-booga charm of protection around our own (this involved making the sign of the cross over your croquet ball and chanting ‘ooga booga’) whenever threatened. We were silly and laughed at nothing and everything. Whoever was responsible for dinner that night would be inside preparing the lobster and it would be ready soon. Life was good.

Our days took on a lovely timeless rhythm. Our spirits adapted to our surroundings and we breathed in time with the wind and the tides and our most basic needs. Released from the pressures of our day-to-day existence, we felt more fully alive than ever. Our sense of life was heightened–perhaps because we had slowed down enough to appreciate it.

The special group of friends are scattered all across the country now. We had been in graduate school together, some of us worked at a summer camp together, some of us had been to college together. One of us has died, children have been born. We’ve all moved to new stages in our lives. But none of us will forget those days. Even in the midst of living them I think we all knew how extraordinary our days on North Haven were. We were young, on the threshold of the rest of our lives, and our playground was one of the loveliest places God ever made.

Mystical, enchanting, ruggedly beautiful, North Haven is a taste of what heaven might just be like. Or at the very least–the way life was intended to be. I can understand Anne’s worry that she might not get back there. But she did. And as she would recount later in Gift from the Sea, she managed to find “North Haven” for herself in other places too. Places where she could retreat to and, in letting go of the demands of daily life, tap into her inner springs once again.

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

Only connect…

imagesNot long ago, on break at a writers’ conference, I sat down with a sigh as I checked email on my phone. Discouraged that my manuscript for a children’s biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, which had won two prizes including “First Place Work-in-Progress Picture Book” at this same conference the year before, had not yet found a home (“You write beautifully, but you need to cut 1,000 words!” was a common refrain), my thoughts were beginning to spiral into the black hole of my-writing-efforts-are-for-naught.

Just one well-timed email later, the veil of self-doubt lifted, and I was reminded that this was not necessarily so. The subject header on the email was: “From Sue, Fellow Lindbergh Graduate.” Sue was a classmate I hadn’t known well growing up in St. Louis many years before, despite having shared close mutual friends in junior high. The gist of her surprisingly long email was that she wanted me to know her recent discovery of Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh more than ten years after its publication and, subsequently, Anne’s own Gift from the Sea, had made a profound impact on her.

“Why did Anne’s book and your book resonate so much within me? Because I have struggled to ‘find myself,’ to stand up for my right to create space and time for myself without feeling guilty or selfish most of my life…(and) that this was essential, as you say, to happiness, inner peace, spirituality, to more rewarding relationships with others…” Sue had more to say. She shared quite openly with me, a virtual stranger despite our common hometown origins, about herself and how her choice to grow in self-awareness has affected every aspect of her life.

Deep calls to deep. My openness in sharing my own struggles in Gifts had elicited this beautiful and heartfelt outpouring of honest expression from her. Sue’s words were a gift to me in that moment, lifting me out of my dejection and reminding me that my writing effort does make a difference. Several emails later we met in St. Louis for lunch and nurtured the seeds of a growing friendship. In reaching out to me, Sue also became the catalyst for reconnecting me with mutual friends whom I’d lost touch with years before.

The gifts continue coming.

The chapter in Gifts titled “Reading to Know You’re Not Alone” could have a corollary: “Writing to Know You’re Not Alone.” As I look back over the years since its publication, I realize a theme is woven through my post-publication experience.

There have been other correspondents, not unlike Sue, who have touched me with their response to my book. And there have been occasions, like the afternoon I had the honor of delivering a keynote lecture at the Missouri History Museum, marking the 75th celebration of Charles Lindbergh’s epic flight, an experience that connected me with the hometown I loved and the museum that meant so much to me as a child. I have also been the guest of a dear friend on Captiva Island, where together we walked the same shell-strewn beach that inspired Anne’s Gift from the Sea.

One of my most cherished memories was the day I met Anne’s daughter Reeve Lindbergh for lunch in her hometown in Vermont. After our meal Reeve could have bade me farewell and sent me on my way, but she didn’t. Instead, she invited me to her farm to see the A-frame chalet that her husband had built on their property for Anne, where she spent her final days. Moments of connection like these are electric. I was reverberating for days after the experience of seeing Anne’s home, with the seashells she had scooped up on Captiva Island lining her mantelpiece. These are the moments that tell us we are fully alive.

A writer friend once gave me a card with an E.M. Forster quote on the cover that said, quite simply, “Only connect…” I keep these words close by, and it’s in this spirit that I am pleased to launch Gifts from the Spirit:Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh once again.