I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact – to borrow from the language of the saints – to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. – Anne in Gift from the Sea
Few women have pioneered as many frontiers as Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh and award-winning pilot in her own right, she was a devoted mother of five and acclaimed writer. She broke barriers of both aviation and society’s definition of womanhood. Long after her piloting records have been surpassed, Lindbergh’s words remain a guide to any woman resisting the centrifugal force of life’s complexities in hope of a centered, purposeful existence.
LIFE AND FLIGHT
Anne Spencer Morrow was born in 1906, to a U.S. diplomat father and a poet mother. They raised Anne and her three siblings to value education and achievement. In 1928, Anne earned her B. A. from Smith College, having already won prizes for her writing. During her senior year, Anne met Charles Lindbergh when they simultaneously visited her family home in Mexico. Charles, having just completed the first nonstop solo transatlantic flight, was arguably the most famous man in the world – a “rather tall and good-looking and shy young man,” Anne later recalled.
After marrying in 1929, Anne and Charles flew across Canada, Alaska, Europe, Japan and China. Anne earned her radio operators license, was the first woman to receive a first-class glider pilot license, and co-piloted with Charles on the transatlantic flight that broke the speed record. She received the U.S. Flag Association Cross of Honor, the National Geographic Society Hubbard Gold Medal, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1938, she won the National Book Award for Listen! The Wind about the flight she and Charles took around the North Atlantic Ocean.
But it is Anne’s writing about selfhood that remains her most enduring work. Her books and diaries reflect the struggle to create parity between relationships, the creative impulse and the inner life. “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,” she records.
Despite occasional household help, Anne parented solo during Charles’ near-constant absence. She devoted herself to motherhood with all its intricacies – cooking, measles, picnics, playdates, laundry, homework, weddings, grandbabies, and even the tragic kidnapping and loss of her firstborn, Charles Jr. She was open to these multiplicities of her life. “I suppose this is my greatest joy of the moment, to sit in a room with Reeve, on the floor with her, and let her give me bits of thread or broken toys” she writes of one afternoon with her children.
Yet, Lindbergh fiercely guarded her inner life and fought constantly to preserve it amidst her daily routine – an unusual stance for a midcentury housewife. In her 1955 essay collection Gift from the Sea, Lindbergh uses seashells she collected while alone at a seaside cottage to reflect on life as a woman in the middle of the 20th century. “I mean to lead a simple life, to choose a simple shell I can carry easily – like a hermit crab. But I do not,” she admits. “I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity.”
The threat of that German term “Zerrissenheit” (“torn-to-pieces-hood”) doesn’t just encompass the classic feminist conundrum of Career versus Family Life. “It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life.” Quiet time alone, she advocates. Simplification. Centering. This preservation of inner life need not be a huge project or magnum opus, but it should be something of one’s own.
Though the social possibilities of femaleness have burst open since 1955, Lindbergh’s concerns – balance, creative fulfillment, inner stillness, giving without depleting oneself – persist. Gift from the Sea has never been out of print since its publication and is hailed as a seminal work of Feminism. Lindbergh herself remained, until her death in 2001, a paragon of audacious womanhood. In her later years, she skied in Vermont and hiked the Alps. At seventy-five, she spent the night in Maui’s Haleakala Crater with grandchildren and friends, pointing out constellations that had guided her flights half a century earlier.
Her writing navigates our own solitary journey towards full-fledged womanhood. With her wisdom, we progress with renewed sense of purpose and a spirit of adventure to welcome the ever-approaching dawn.
For further reading on Anne’s life: Against Wind and Tide: Letters and Journals 1947-1986, Gift from the Sea, Listen! The Wind, The Unicorn & Other Poems.