Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “Against Wind and Tide”
I just finished reading Against Wind and Tide, the final collection of letters and journals (1947-1986) of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Many of us know her as the wife of Charles Lindbergh, one of the great pioneers in aviation. But she was also a writer in her own right. Her most famous book, Gift from the Sea, was first published in 1955 and has never been out of print.
Anne, the daughter of Dwight Morrow, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, met Charles Lindbergh in Mexico City in 1927. In many ways they were opposites. He, a practical and restless man, was America’s hero and known all over the world.
Anne, on the other hand, was a quiet and shy young woman, an introvert and poet. They were married in 1929. Charles taught Anne to fly and she soon became a very skilled pilot. Anne and Charles flew all over the world together–often in an open cockpit plane–exploring air routes from North America to Europe and China, plus air routes from Africa to South America.
But soon tragedy struck. Their first child, Charles, at age 20 months, was kidnapped from his crib in March 1932. Two months later his body was found in a nearby woods. The kidnapping, the ransom note, and ensuing trial caused a media frenzy. The Lindberghs were so hounded by the press and even received death threats against their second son, they eventually retreated to England. (Her books Bring Me a Unicorn and Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead tell of her courtship, marriage, flying, and the kidnapping.)
Anne and Charles had five other children: Jon, Land, Anne, Scott, and Reeve. Charles died in 1974, Anne in 2001. After Anne’s death, her children learned that their father had had several affairs in the 50’s and 60’s and was the father of several other children in Europe whom he financially supported. In Anne’s diaries and letters from this time period, she often describes her husband’s long absences–weeks or even months at a time. I kept wondering: Did she know? Anne herself formed close friendships with many individuals–including two men of note. In the introduction to Against Wind and Tide, her daughter Reeve says she believes these relationships “were not physical but emotional.” They were “affairs more of words than caresses.” Before she died, Anne confessed to Reeve that at one point she had seriously considered leaving Charles if things didn’t get better. Her daughter asked, “Why didn’t you leave him?” Anne said simply, “Things got better.”
I’m fascinated by Anne Morrow Lindbergh for several reasons. First, her book Gift from the Sea makes her one of the earliest advocates of the environmental movement (some say) and puts her also in the forefront of so-called “feminist literature.” I also enjoy her thoughts on writing. Here’s one I resonate with: “I cannot see what I have gone through until I write it down. I am blind without a pencil” (p. 152). When Charles’ book on his historic flight across the Atlantic won the Pulitzer prize, Anne admits her jealousy. After all, she put her own writing on hold for several years to help him with his book. I appreciate her honesty.
Anne’s letters and journals show a woman struggling to balance being a wife, mother, celebrity, daughter, sister, friend, writer, and grandmother. Aren’t we all trying to balance the various “roles” we play in life? The book also highlights Anne’s vulnerability. When one of her books received a scathing review from the poet John Ciardi, she confesses her “shock” at “his attack so full of venom and hostility.” His words make her feel “trapped by my name, my fame, my money, my position, my marriage.” Then she adds, “the real trap is my sensitivity–my inner vulnerability–my own weakness” (p. 158).
The book also contains an unpublished manuscript chronicling the first year after her husband’s death. It is a poignant description of the grieving process and would be of interest to anyone mourning a significant loss. Anne also lived long enough to bury many of her closest friends, her daughter Anne, and a young grandson Jonathan. In the 1990’s she suffered several strokes and became frail and confused. Eventually she was moved into a small house on Reeve’s Vermont farm, receiving full-time care and daily visits from her daughter. Reeve’s book No More Words describes the last year of her mother’s life. Anne died in 2001.
Anne loved the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit. She found these words of his particularly meaningful: “What would become of our souls, Lord, if they lacked the bread of earthly reality to nourish them, the wine of created beauty to intoxicate them, the discipline of human struggle to make them strong?” Anne Morrow Lindbergh (like all of us, I hope) was nourished by the bread of earthly reality, intoxicated by created beauty, and became strong and beautiful through the human struggles of her particular life.
Is there anything about Anne Morrow Lindbergh that moves you, impresses you, or makes you wonder?
What a beautiful reflection Sister Melannie! Anne was such a shining example of beauty through her pain. I read recently that joy and sorrow are sisters in the same house. How true that was for Anne and me too.
Thank you for writing, Kathleen and for sharing that good quote with us! I’m sure many of our readers can resonate with those words. Sr. Melannie
Thank you for educating me on the life of Anne Lindbergh. I knew so little about her, yet she was approximately my own mother’s age. What a full, tragic, yet wonderful life she lived, and I am grateful for all that she wrote. So much pain in so beautiful a woman.
Dear Mary, It was good hearing from you! Yes, there were some significant tragedies in her life–yet (as you say) she became “a beautiful woman” through it all. Sr. Melannie
Our book club just finished reading the “The Aviator’s Wife”. We were impressed with her “duty” and feeling of responsibility/accountability. So often today we “just quit” instead of sticking to something, like a life long commitment, and move on. There’s strength and courage in sticking with things through “thick and thin”.
I remember reading “Gift from the Sea” in high school (can you believe that?) In fact I’m going to read it again after having read the book and now you’ve given me some other options for our book club.
FYI. Kevin just released a new collection of hymns available on CD from OCP. “Shine in Me”. My son Sean, did the cover art work!
Thanks Sr. Melannie!!!!
Dear Chris, Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts on commitment. I’m glad you’re going to pick up “Gift from the Sea” again since you haven’t read it since high school. I bet you’ll see things in it now that you didn’t see as a teenager. I’m glad to hear Kevin has released a new CD–and your son did the cover art. I’ll check it out! Melannie
Wow what inspiration, this woman is a hero thanks for bringing her to my attention. I want to read her books. Her thinking is deeply contemplative in away her entire life was a prayer.
Thank you, Bernadette for sharing your thoughts. I do agree that her life was very contemplative. Sr. Melannie
I really appreciate the thought “I cannot see what I have gone through until I write it down. I am blind without a pencil”. Writing out thoughts, then looking at the words in print before me, helps me to sort out the inspirations of my soul, where God speaks to me. It has especially helped me through the tragic losses I experienced three years ago. Sometimes I am compelled to share my writing, and sometime it is for me alone. A couple weeks ago, on June 14th, my grandson Colson would have been three years old. I wrote him a letter. Writing it down expressed my thoughts and helped me to feel a tiny bit closer to Heaven, where he is.
I always felt a fondness for Charles Lindberg having lived 5 years in his childhood hometown in MN. I toured his boyhood home many times in my youth. My sisters and I would go time after time after time. It is good to have a glimpse of Anne. I now feel inspired to read Anne’s books. Thank you for writing about her.
Dear Deb, My sympathy to you on the loss of your little grandson, Colson. I can only begin to imagine your pain…Writing him a letter seemed to be very good for you. Thank you for sharing this with us. There might be other readers out there who also are experiencing a deep loss. Perhaps they too might benefit from writing a letter to their “lost” loved one…Thank you again, Deb! Sr. Melannie