A friend found this book at a thrift store and gifted it to me nearly 20 years ago. Today it remains by my bathtub so I can flip through it from time to time. But what’s even better is taking it to the beach and discovering my own gifts from the sea as I read. If you are looking for something short yet thought-provoking to read, then this is the book for you.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh (the wife of Charles Lindbergh) wrote this book while on a vacation in Florida in the 1950’s. She writes about her thoughts and feelings about society and relationships from her own experience. Although certain ideas and behaviors in society have changed since then, there are many pieces that still apply such as the benefits of simplifying our lifestyles, learning from our relationships, and lessons of patience and faith.
What I like about this book:
- The various observations and commentary that she makes such as speaking about the importance of allowing variety and discomfort in our lives. “The difficulty with the big city environment is that if we select–and we must in order to live and breathe and work in such crowded conditions–we tend to select people like ourselves, a very monotonous diet. All hors d’oeuvres and no meat; or all sweets and no vegetables, depending on the kind of people we are. But however much the diet may differ between us, one thing is fairly certain: we usually select the known, seldom the strange. We tend not to choose the unknown which might be a shock or a disappointment or simply a little difficult to cope with. And yet it is the unknown with all its disappointments and surprises that is the most enriching.” (119) This quote could just as easily be modernized and applied to the way we have become so divided through social media by not reading, listening to, or being with people of opposing views.
- The metaphors comparing seashells to relationships… It’s the reminder of how much nature can teach us about ourselves and the world. “All living relationships are in a process of change, of expansion, and must perpetually be building themselves new forms. But there is no single fixed form to express such a changing relationship. There are perhaps different forms for each successive stage; different shells I might put in a row on my desk to suggest the different stages of marriage–or indeed of any relationship. My double-sunrise shell comes first. It is a valid image, I think for the first stage: two flawless halves bound together with a single hinge, meeting each other at every point the dawn of a new day spreading on each face…It is however … a small world, that must be inevitably and happily outgrown.” (75-76)
- Her focus on the return to simplicity and the difficulty with an overabundance of options. “One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few…Gradually one discards and keeps just the perfect specimen; not necessarily a rare shell, but a perfect one of its kind. One sets it apart by itself, ringed around by space–like the island. For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms. Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant–and therefore beautiful. A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of sky. A note in music gains significance from the silences on either side…My life in Connecticut, I begin to realize, lacks this quality of significance and therefore of beauty, because there is so little empty space. The space is scribbled on; the time has been filled. There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures–an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant.” (114-115)
- It is broken up into short chapters, named after a different shell, that can be read in pieces or all in one sitting without feeling like a big commitment of time.
- Parts are definitely outdated, especially gender roles.
- It may appeal more to introverts than extroverts.
- She speaks of marriage and motherhood which may not speak to your experience, but there are other parts of the book that can appeal to people from all walks of life.
Moon shell, who named you? Some intuitive woman I like to think. I shall give you another name–Island shell. I cannot live forever on my island. But I can take you back to my desk in Connecticut. You will sit there and fasten your single eye upon me. You will make me think, with you smooth circles winding inward to the tiny core, of the island I lived on for a few weeks. You will say to me “solitude”. You will remind me that I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days; and for a part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core, my center, my island spirituality. You will remind me that unless I keep the island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give to my husband, my children, my friends, or the world at large. You will remind me that woman must be still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of her activities; that she must be the pioneer in achieving this stillness, not only for her own salvation, but for the salvation of family life, of society, perhaps even of our civilization.-Anne Morrow Lindbergh