The Sea in Elderhood: Part 1

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My husband and I recently returned from two weeks at the shore, providing us with rest, respite, and time to re-group. As is my habit, I chose to take along a book that would assist me in accomplishing those three R’s, and I downloaded a new book to accompany my leisure time. Gift from the Sea, by Ann Morrow Lindbergh, is a book that I returned to for the third time over the course of the last four decades. I read it once as a young adult and gifted a copy to my mother, then again in middle adulthood. Now, as an elder, I find fresh meaning in the lines. In fact, Lindbergh’s writing is always so fresh and rich, that I will return to the book as the topic for this blog a number of times over the coming weeks.

The edition I currently have is the 50th anniversary edition,  with an introduction by the author’s daughter. In it, Reeve Lindbergh writes, “At whatever point one opens Gift from the Sea, to any chapter or page, the author’s words offer a chance to breathe and live more slowly.” Later, she writes of how her mother tried, “to live from a core of inner stillness,” despite the bustle and turmoil of her life. For me, these words were especially true as I reflected on them, walking the beach at dusk each evening. In this entry, I wish to share how the experience evoked for me the many different water spaces in my life.

The waves of the Atlantic lapping the sand at low tide initiated a reverie of the water places – spaces that always bring me peace – that I have visited. How many beaches and riversides have I known in my lifetime – in the States, in Canada, Spain, France, Ireland, England, Mexico? In what ways have they impacted my life? I look down at the sand and see how the waves have carved patterns that resemble mountain ranges running north to south with rivulets cutting through them as rivers do. A little further on designs, cascades, scallops, sheets of ruffles that go on and on. Then a stretch of pieces of broken shells that form scoops like ice cream atop cones carved in the sand at their base by the receding waves.

I look out at the water and I see myself as a young girl with my Aunt Georgine beside me as I kicked and stroked myself into a swimmer in the Chesapeake. I see the waves setting up and breaking far into the distance and I remember a moment of strong transcendence that I experienced sitting on a cliff overlooking the Pacific at the age of seventeen. I observe a large wave crashing over a surfer, carrying her forward without forgiveness and I remember a college afternoon in Goleta, cliffside to the University of California, Santa Barbara. A friend and I swam around a rocky point and were almost thrown mercilessly by the waves against the rocks, probably to our deaths. I look out across the waves, transporting myself to the other side of the Atlantic and I remember the first time I saw the Mediterranean as a young woman in search of herself in a foreign country. I remember the day that I came to accept the beautiful St. Lawrence River – our fourth coast – as my touchstone place, where my husband, our sons, and I can forever return to and celebrate family.

These and more memories passed through my mind as I walked on the beach each evening. In later blogs, I plan to reflect on how water spaces impacted my life in the past and what remains of those influences in elderhood. I hope I have piqued your curiosity!

Reference:

Lindbergh, A. M. (2005). Gift from the Sea (50th Anniversary Edition). NY: Pantheon Books.

Photo: Beach by Erika Julin on Flickr:   https://goo.gl/4AZgeQ (CC BY-NC 2.0).

 

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