So Beautiful is the Still Hour of the Sea’s Withdrawal

Late last August, I was in Manhattan for work and still very much processing what Jason and I were attempting to pull off/ figure out.  I was intermittently journaling and scrolling a few social media pages that I find helpful with their daily mediation reminders and this quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh popped up,  Now full disclosure, her name was vaguely familiar, mostly the Lindbergh part, but I didn’t really know anything about her except that she had a son that was kidnapped and I certainly had no idea she was a writer.    The quote was” Do not miss the flowering that waits for the afternoon.”  It took my breath away.  At the time I was firmly ensconced in the what the hell am I doing with my life and my marriage part of this journey, The I’m almost fifty, why am I questioning these past twenty years part of the journey.    And yet, I had this nagging moment of hope and a spark of what if.   This feeling that our lives are just chapters that when all strung together they create a life and a  journey and why shouldn’t it be a joyous one? 

It was hot in NYC and I didn’t want to sit in my hotel room so I wandered over to Bryant Park (my favorite place in NYC) to find a quiet spot to read and write.  However it was summer so there wasn’t any so I wandered to Barnes and Noble and thought I’d try to find this book that Anne Morrow Lindbergh had written (thank you Google) titled Gifts From the Sea

I perused the memoir aisle, then the self help, then the feminist writing section and couldn’t find it.  I asked the girl working there.. “Yeah we have one, it’s in the Christianity section”….  After a momentary panic thought flitted across my brain, I decided to buy it anyway as the bits I’d read on the internet really hit a nerve in my heart, soul and mind.   This book started with a forward written by her daughter on its 50th anniversary of the original release,  and that forward was written 20 years ago..  I was holding on to a book that was 70 years old, to think that what this woman had to say that would still feel relevant to me seemed a stretch. 

I could not have been more wrong.   This book in its eight  chapters, hit all my feels,, echoed all my thoughts, reinforced my questions, raised the same doubts I had.  I laughed and sobbed and scribbled notes and took deep breaths to re-center as I read through its chapters.  

It her her reflection on her life and the stages of it as told by the sea and the shells and solitude and quiet.  Young adulthood, early parenting, midlife, relationships with some history.   I honestly don’t want to go into it too much because I want people to experience this book on their own and see where they fall in it.  It is for sure geared to those of us,  mainly female presenting, who are firmly in middle age,  have almost grown children, are questioning the confines of life, the demands life asks of us, the effects of that on our souls.

As I read through it , there was one chapter in particular which took my breath away.  Argonauta.   The stage of  relationships, past the lovey dovey, past the young child rearing days and smack in the middle of the what now, what do I want stage of life. Where we are all a bit battered and bruised, and well loved and hopefully financially safe enough, when we don’t have to answer to everyone all the time, when we struggle to find tattered remnants of ourselves and our partners.  

And then I read this line.. “So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal” 

The power in that hit me like a brick.   I had been living in an overpowering sea, dark and deep and drowning and scary and back breaking and majestic.  A roiling sea of work commitments, family obligations, Zoe’s medical rollercoaster, a relationship on the rocks, a lonely dark abyss of a world with little time for friendships and connection.  

But I was learning the sea also rescinds,  It leaves in its wake driftwood stripped bare and to its essence, but still there surviving and dry and here to tell the stories of how it survived,  It leaves shards of rainbow colored glass once sharp and edgy but over time softened and smooth and full of stories of lives once lived, minute fragments tossed and turned for decades, but yet surviving and living in the pocket of a lucky beachcomber as a symbol of hope or luck or joy. 

The sea unearths treasures from all over the world,  sent on a tumbling miraculous adventure, glass floats travel across oceans, house animal life, give a barnacle a place to cling on to.  And again,  are treasures and bring joy to those who stumble across them on their morning foggy walk. 

There is a quietness in the beach sand, left smooth by the retreating waves. It is a place where an indent of toes quickly recovers to smooth again and shows that we like the sand are resilient,  we leave impressions and memories and yet they’re fleeting.  A rock overturned proves the shore gives shelter to tiny crabs and bugs and snails  that are somehow able to call this beach home, in spite of the relentless sea, the hammering waves.  There is safety in the sea’s withdrawal. 

The still beach with the waning tide, is a reminder of the ebbs and flows of life, the way it can one moment have so much pressure and power it threatens to pull you under and the next, it is a treasure trove of quiet and peace and magic and beauty and a reminder than we are all part of this crazy journey of life.  

The beach is a time a solitude, to sit and listen to my heart, to witness the joy of my daughter as she lets crabs crawl all over her hands and wiggles her toes in the sand,  A place where we can accumulate beach found treasures that occupy several dishes in our house,  reminders of adventures, family stories, life, beauty, sadness, bravery. 

In my 20s I spent many a summer working in the Black Hills of South Dakota at a theatre,  My favorite thing to do back then was to sit under the midnight dark sky on top of a large high rock in silence with friends or by myself and feel like I could literally reach out and grab the stars that hung low over our heads.  The magnitude of the universe, the smallness of me,   It was calming, reassuring, soothing, and powerful. I am hoping to be back there soon in our vintage travel trailer and have Zoe experience those moments as well.  

And while perhaps my favorite place to sit and figure out the world is the front porch of the farmhouse with the firepit 10 inches from my feet, the rain dumping down, wrapped in a blanket,  a glass of wine in hand and music playing a tad too loud on my phone with my journal in hand,  the sea and the stars hold that same power for me.  

I am leaning into my solitude,  reveling in it, I’ve missed it.  I am discovering the beauty in these moments,  the fleeting smiles from strangers after years of masking, the roses and Camelia just about to bloom in the 23 degree weather,  the sunrise on the ferry that is a rainbow streaked across the sky, the hugs Jason and I have for each other after a particularly hard vulnerable conversation.  The sparkly snort laugh I get from Zoe after watching you YouTube video that makes her happy, the sheer ecstasy of an impromptu dance party with Zoe to a completely inappropriate song.   And even better,  the heart bursting joy I feel with singing along to Lukas Nelson with Zoe to “Don’t you forget about Georgia”.   I am loving that Jason and I are giving each other space to grow, to evolve, to answer to what moves us now. We are saying no to being stuck, to only listening to societal expectations. What could this world be like if we all willingly and with no judgment accepted growth as an adult, What if in that growth we acknowledged the harm and trauma we’ve experienced and caused and took responsibility for it, What if we could all heal?

It is a big scary world, and I have no idea where I’ll end up but right now the power of stepping out of the undertow of the sea and finding the beauty and the stillness and sitting in that stillness until it is uncomfortable and healing at the same time is absolutely everything. 

I’m choosing to not think about the what ifs, the should have/ could haves.  I have this one precious life to live as does my always family of Zoe and Jason.  We are choosing to revel in this new found connection and yet this new found release of each other into our own seas, our own shores, our own stories to tell.  All the while knowing that we are connected and wound together and bound together and tossed and turned and lost at times. Now we know that this solitude, this time to be quiet and reflect is pushing us into this new stage of our lives.  We are covered in barnacles and rubbed smooth in places and jagged in others,  we are windswept and at moments tossed to the bottom of the sea, but we rise again, we reach the shore, we see the sunrise, we listen to the rain, we made it  here. 

Find the beauty my friends, trust the solitude and the stillness, learn from the struggles, and most of all, always recognize and revel in the beauty left by in the wake of the sea.  Know that it all ebbs and flows  and that is the beauty.   

And a few quotes  from the chapter that took my breath away:


When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment.  It is an impossibility.  It is even a lie to pretend to.  And yet this is what most of us demand.  We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. .. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity, when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity— in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern,.. Security in a relationship, lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. 

Intermittency — an impossible lesson for human beings to learn. How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one’s existence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave? It is easier to understand here on the beach, where the breathlessly still ebb tides reveal another life below the level which mortals usually reach. In this crystalline moment of suspense, one has a sudden revelation of the secret kingdom at the bottom of the sea. Here in the shallow flats one finds, wading through warm ripples, great horse conchs pivoting on a leg; white sand dollars, marble medallions engraved in the mud; and myriads of bright-colored cochina-clams, glistening in the foam, their shells opening and shutting like butterflies’ wings. So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal, as beautiful as the sea’s return when the encroaching waves pound up the beach, pressing to reach those dark rumpled chains of seaweed which mark the last high tide.

Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid. And my shells? I can sweep them all into my pocket. They are only there to remind me that the sea recedes and returns eternally.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gifts From The Sea

And because this feels wordy and poetic and a bit flowery ( and yet heartfelt) for me,  a few songs you should check out to go with your thoughts and the ebbs and flows.  A few songs that remind me how strong we all are, how much beauty and love there is in the world, and how love doesn’t end, it just changes and evolves and adapts.   

The Sea and the Shore (Amy Speace and John Fulbright)

Shine ( David Gray)

Silence is Easy ( Starsailor)

Empty Cups ( Amanda Shires)

Share the Moon ( Indigo Girls)

Walk into a Storm (Lone Bellow)

If You Fall ( Amy Speace)

I Remember Everything (John Prine)

Unknown Legend (Shovels and Rope)

Tougher Than the Rest (Shawn Colvin)

Stop Your Crying (Ted Hawkins)

Finish What We Started (Zac Brown and Brandi Carlile)

Forget About Georgia (Lukas Nelson)

American Flowers (Birds of Chicago and Allison Russell)

Windows are Rolled Down ( Amos Lee)

Hugs and love to you all my friends.   I’m deeply grateful for this life and the people who fill it with love.  We’ve always got each other.

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