My book club just finished a tandem reading of The Aviator’s Wife alongside Gift From the Sea. The former, by Melanie Benjamin, is novel of historical fiction about Anne Morrow Lindbergh- you know, the aviator Charles Lindberg’s wife. She was an amazingly accomplished aviator, navigator and writer, the mother of six children. She was a feminist before feminism was en vogue- perhaps because her husband utilized her skills in a plane and minimized the importance of her presence in the home. She was the rare woman who actually evolved from citizen of the world to keeper of the family, a reversal of the typical trajectory.
Gift From the Sea is a book of observations by the aviator’s wife herself -about the roles women play during their lives. Shells serve as a graphic organizer. She wrote it as her children left the nest, to honor the multi-tasking women do, calling them the “great vacationless class.” She reminded women to reserve bits of themselves, to examine themselves without their stuff, their distractions, their spouses and even their children to best create a meaningful life.
Like most women, I had read Gift before, and culled messages that soothed me over the years: disconnect from your routine, live simply, exist in the present tense, value a variety of friendships, know that every phase of life has gifts.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anne was wealthy, worldly and readily able to disconnect and meander the shores of Captiva Island, tormenting shells into her extended metaphor….me, not so much.
But here I am. On Lake Michigan. Alone. Kids grown. I am the final phase, the argonaut mom who floated her babies to the surface, where they hatch and swim from the cradle. The mother argonaut ditches the shell, and starts a new life.
I am lucky. I don’t have to swim away from my babies and start over. Still, life is new.
I am not grieving for the chaos of days gone by. I am grateful.
I am not fearful about the days ahead. I am fortunate.
When I read Gift From the Sea at 30, or 40- I was looking for answers, or permission to be a separate entity from wife/mother. Like Anne in Captiva, I am in my second act. Or third.
Good news, Anne. Your book may not have given me answers, or permission, but it encouraged me to keep morphing, questioning, retrofitting.
That is quite a gift, from the sea of otherwise. And a nice job to fill my de- cluttered days.
Maybe tomorrow I can come up with a gift to share with visitors here. It won’t be profound- Anne had an ocean. I have a lake. It’s the perfect size for me.
C’mon back. Who knows what silly thing I’ll say?