Monday, May 7, 2012

The Last Gift of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I recently wrote about Anne Morrow Lindbergh and my just learning that her family was about to publish a sixth and final volume of her diaries and letters. (The first five volumes were brought out during Anne's lifetime.) Thanks to the wonders of the interlibrary loan system, I checked out the book last Thursday and just Sunday morning slowly and reluctantly read the last entry.

It was the kind of book that, as I read it, I would have to set aside and walk around a bit to regain my balance. It was the kind of book that, as I read it, I would sometimes put my hand to my throat to catch the emotions welling up in me.

It was the kind of book I will read again and again until it is imprinted on my heart like so many others of hers.

I emailed Margo when I had read about a third of it. "Heartbreaking." I saw Margo briefly at Saturday's concert and we talked in a few quick sentences. "Heartbreaking," I said again.

Why that choice of word? All that came to mind was this year's Easter sermon at Maple Grove: "Easter begins with Mary, weeping in the dark."

Let me not give the impression that Against Wind and Tide is a sad book. No. While Anne captured the sad moments that life holds: the deaths of her mother and her husband, the loss of friends through misunderstanding, the limitations on her life as she aged, she also celebrated the joyous ones: a family wedding, the arrival of grandchildren, talking with a dear friend.

So why do I find this book heartbreaking?

I wrote in my blog post that I looked forward to meeting the older Anne. I have not been disappointed. The older Anne is even more understandable and approachable than the younger Anne. I recognize myself (not for the first time) in her words, not the least in her frustrations over her writing.

So why heartbreaking?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, like any of us, had many different roles in her life, including some (wife of an aviation icon and a pioneer aviator herself) that none of us will ever attain. One heartbreak for me was reading her struggles (when she was in her 50s, incidentally) against roles which no longer fit or she had never asked for in the first place. It is hard to read in her own words what price she paid to fit so many roles, including that of "good girl."

How many of us struggle with being a "good girl"—a good wife, a good mother, a good daughter, a good friend—and feel we constantly come up short? Or feel someone else does it better or more effortlessly? How many of us strive to achieve that impossible goal and then resent what we must set aside, or suppress, or not say or do, in order to be good? (Go ahead. Admit it. You know we do.)

There is even more heartbreak in Anne's reflections on her own writing. In 1955, she published Gift From the Sea, a reflection on the various stages of a (married) woman's life. The book was an immediate best seller and has never been out of print. As Anne ruefully noted, she had finally won vast acclaim and adoration for a book (and sentiment) in which she no longer believed. There is her jealousy when Charles, with whom she had a long, complex, and often lonely marriage, won the Pulitzer prize for The Spirit of St. Louis. While she pegged some of her resentment to his lack of support when she went through a long period of therapy for depression, she also ground her teeth and wrote that her life, her writing, their marriage, and their family, were all sacrificed to The Book, and that she ended up supporting the writing of it at the expense of her own dreams and projects. It is hard to read that entry and feel her pain and bitterness.

That, ultimately, is why the book is heartbreaking. It is sad, but not heartbreaking, to see her struggle in her marriage and in coming to a satisfactory relationship with Charles. It is poignant to read her worries over her adult children's problems.

But it is heartbreaking to watch her agonize over her worth and ability as a writer. I swallowed hard when Anne, in her late 70s, finally admitted in her diary that she could not pull together another book.

As I read this book, I was grateful that Reeve Lindbergh (and other family members) thought this volume was needed to complete the personal portrait that Anne had started with the publication of the first volume. For those of us who find her writing so arresting, so sure and so beautiful, the book is a gift. I am also grateful that the Lindbergh family did not wield the same heavy censorious pen that Anne (and certainly Charles) would have. They have let Anne speak—in reflection, in sorrow, in love, in anger, in joy, and in humor.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh turned again and again to the written word to carry her through the difficult times, the joyous times, and the ordinary times of her life. Although she was rarely satisfied with the results, Anne was a writer and she understood what writing meant: Writing is a glass-bottomed bucket through which one looks to the still world beneath the ruffled surface of the waves. It is the blind man's stick with which I tap my way along the pavement. It is also my keel, which keeps me steady in choppy waters and gives me direction. So you see I write because I have to. 

A glass-bottomed bucket to see beneath the waves. A stick to tap along the pavement when you are blind. A keel to keep you steady in choppy waters.

And for those of us reading her words, Anne's writing is a gift, one last gift, from her beautiful pen.


Sharon said...

I LOVED Gift from the Sea, and I now want to read this book. Thanks for letting me know it's out there, she was a incredible writer!

northsidefour said...

I had no idea there was another book, thank you. She was a fascinating person and a wonderful writer, I can't wait to get my copy. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I suspect that I might benefit from reading this book. I know that there are sacrifices I continue to make for a beloved dreamer of mine...who wants me to retire and scarcely realizes it is his enthusiasms that keep that very goal at bay.

see you there! said...

I have this on order through out library. I may have to go buy it if I can't wait.