Sunday, July 07, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Grace, Solitude, and Limits

My husband and I are both feeling exhausted and burned out (and maybe a bit depressed). We are embodying the term "sandwich generation," and lately, stretched thin between caring for - and worrying about - both his dad (who is 94), who was recently hospitalized, and our oldest son, whose ME/CFS and tick infections, plus new problems, have been out of control and much worse the past six months. It's a lot of stress, and while my own illness is normally fairly well-controlled with treatments, lately I am back to waking up still worn out and lacking in energy all day.

I am definitely in need of some inspiration, and this morning, paging through my Quote Journal, I was reminded of how much brilliance, thoughtfulness, and inspiration are crammed into the brief classic, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (yes, she was married to Charles). A good friend from high school gave me this book decades ago, shortly after we both graduated from college, and I enjoyed it back then. When I re-read it last fall, though, in the midst of a severe relapse, Lindbergh's insightful words really resonated with me, as I think is natural given that when she wrote it, she was a wife and mother and writer like me, balancing multiple roles. I think she has something for everyone, though.

The basis for her book of essays is that she took a break from her busy life to write. She traveled to a remote spot on Captiva Island in Florida, stayed in a small cottage, and spent some time completely alone on the beach (my dream!). The contrast to her usually crammed-full life inspired thoughtful and powerful essays about the meaning of life. The amazing part is that she wrote this book in the early 50's (it was first published in 1955), but her words are startlingly relevant to our lives today, even with technology she never could have dreamed of! I wrote here once before about her book and one particular quote about solitude in Weekly Inspiration: Stillness and How to Be Alone, but today I'd like to share more of her insightful quotes with you...and of course, I highly recommend you read the book! It's a brief but powerful one. My own copy is filled with dog-eared pages that translated to a dozen pages in my Quote Journal. Here are some of my favorites:
"But I want first of all - in fact, as an end to these other desires - to be at peace with myself. 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. ...By grace, I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedus when he said, "May the outward and inward man be at one."

This passage is beautifully written and expresses a universal desire. Isn't this what everyone wants out of life? Grace, harmony, and for our inner and outer worlds to be in sync. That sounds like a very peaceful way to live, doesn't it? I think I have somewhat attained this goal, though I am often feeling pulled in too many different directions.  Certainly, chronic illness encourages you to live outwardly according to your inner core because it just takes too much energy to put up a false front!

Here's another of my favorites that resonates with me now very strongly:
"If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others... Only when one is connected to one's own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude."

For me, this applies not only to my immediate situation, as I try to take care of family members, but also to my life more generally. Chronic illness for me has led to a life connecting to and trying to help others, through the local support group I run and the online groups I both run and participate in. Being able to reach out and help others is for me the silver lining in a life of chronic illness, so her words feel like a gentle warning that if I don't take care of myself, then I can't reach out to others...including my own family members. And that last line feels like my personal credo this days. I desire and yearn for solitude lately. My husband and son went golfing Friday while my other son was away, and it was such a thrill to have a few hours to myself! I wrote recently, in an article for ProHealth, about my need for solitude and the question, Has Chronic Illness Turned Me Into an Introvert? But reading this quote, I think it's more than that. I think Lindbergh was right, and solitude is necessary for recharging, for harmony, and for staying connected to my core.
"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."

Yes! This is my life and probably that of everyone else in today's world, too. Everything feels filled up, with no empty space, and it all feels too important to let anything drop. The ironic thing today is that even if you are housebound or bedridden, it is likely that this passage is still relevant to you because there is just so much stuff in our world today to fill our time, things that Lindbergh never dreamed of. It is easy, even if you never leave your house, to still fill every minute - with TV and movies and music and podcasts and books and social media and ...just so much content and so little time! I certainly feel that way and tend to not only fill every minute but double-fill it, listening to a podcast or audio book while I do laundry or take a walk. Empty space is seriously lacking in my life.

Finally, Lindbergh writes about how this lack of empty space plays out in the realm of relationships. This is one of many passages in the book where it's amazing that she is talking about the 1950's. Just think how much more full our lives are today, how many more inputs, resources, and information are coming at us so much faster.
"We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print, and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The inter-relatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather - for I believe the heart is infinite - modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance, and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds."

I should write that last line on my forehead! This passage so perfectly captures what is probably the #1 problem in my life. I want to help everyone, but my body doesn't have that capacity. I think this also applies to what is going on in the wider world. Even if we rarely leave our homes, we are inundated with horrifying news stories about suffering children, the destructive effects of climate change, increasingly hostile politics, and more. It's almost heartening to read these words from Lindbergh - a perfectly healthy woman in the 1950's, many decades before the internet - and to understand that she, too, was limited. So, if she couldn't do everything, how on earth could I possibly, with the limitations of my illness and the expansion of our digital lives? And yet, that is exactly what I try every single week - to do everything, to help everyone. I need to give some serious thought to this idea that it is impossible, and I am only making myself feel inadequate and stretched too thin by continuing to try.

Lots to think about in this week's post - I think I wrote it as much for myself as I did for readers of my blog! Now, if only I could somehow finangle a couple of weeks alone at the beach...

But I would love to hear YOUR thoughts. Which of these quotes (or some other from another source) resonates most with you? What are your feelings about grace, solitude, and our limits? Please share your comments below.

A 50th anniversary edition of Gift from the Sea is available from Amazon, and you can listen to a sample of the audio, which features a fascinating introduction by the author's daughter.


Or you can order Gift From the Sea from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


Tanya @ Moms Small Victories said...

Sounds like an amazing book and a good book to reread when you need it! Thanks for the recommendations!

Sue Jackson said...

I was thinking of you as I wrote this post, Tanya - I thought you would relate to the3se insightful quotes!