A weekend alone, and other Gifts from the Sea

Roscoe, 3 years old

For a few weeks we've had an out of town trip planned for this weekend. I am on call for my mama clients, as I usually am, and my back-up happens to be out of the area as well, so I seized an opportunity for solitude and made the decision to stay home. Andy and the boys headed South to NC a couple hours ago, leaving me alone in my own home for the first time since becoming a mother 4.5 years ago.

I recently finished a short book called Gift From the Sea, authored by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a mother who write's on "the shape of a woman's life" from a vacation cottage on Captiva Island. The beach and the shells she finds there inspire analogies that illustrate the chapters of her own experience, from the channelled whelk, to the double sun-rise, to the Argonauta.    

Anne's words read so plain and true. She declares the truth of my own conflicted energy as a woman and mother, a human being with responsibility and distraction. So poignant, the book resonated wildly in my own heart for weeks after I read it, mirroring my own experience through shared sentiments, with words that I've wanted to write but hadn't yet found.

Gifts from the Sea has inspired my intentions for the upcoming year in huge ways and, in the quiet peace of tonight, I want to share a little excerpt from the chapter titled Channelled Whelk:

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"For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider's web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need, and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living. How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist or saint—the inner inviolable core, the single eye.

With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pull—woman's normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and CareerWoman and the HomeWoman 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 no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.

What is the answer? There is no easy answer, no complete answer. I have only clues, shells from the sea. The bare beauty of the channelled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life. I can at least practice for these two weeks the simplification of outward life, as a beginning. I can follow this superficial clue, and see where it leads. Here, in beach living, I can try."
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Happy Friday, and if you haven't yet read Gifts from the Sea, I hope it finds a way onto your Holiday wish-list. 

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