Soaring Heights and Tragic Depths in the Life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh
January 11, 2013 § 2 Comments
In 1929, Anne Morrow Lindbergh was on board the first ever passenger-paying flight, part of Transcontinental Air Transport’s (TAT’s) combination plane-and-train trip linking New York and California. Her husband, Charles, was the pilot, while Anne, the only female passenger, recorded her experience, later published as part of Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1929-1932. How things have changed:
The ship is beautifully decorated inside, painted a cool gray-green, with the most comfortable green leather-covered chairs, that are adjustable. Little green curtains and blue-shaded lights. There is a white uniformed attendant shouting in my ear that he will get anything I want—reading or writing material. . . .
We have each been given an envelope full of data on the TAT organization. . . . Also I have been handed a large folding map (decorated à la old picture-map style) of our route. Postcards of places along the route. The “courier” has just offered me a little aluminum table to write on; there is plenty of room for knees and a table.
. . . .
At Kingman [AZ] we took on two square tin cupboards and one large thermos. The little table was set up by me, covered with a lavender linen tablecloth (tied on), and on metal plates I had passed me a delicious meal: cold chicken or tongue, etc. . . .
After researching Lindbergh’s life for my post on Gift from the Sea. That led me to Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, which I’ve just finished reading. It covers her wedding to Charles—the first global celebrity—their flights together, the birth of their son, and his kidnapping and murder 20 months later. The first three of the years covered in the book are the golden years, the last one, leaden. Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead is certainly an absorbing read, with Lindbergh’s account of the happiness and the tragedy written down in “real time,” not in the typical reflective style of a memoir.
Another event recorded by Lindbergh is her flight with Charles to Asia, with stops in Canada, Alaska, Russia, Japan, and China. In a letter to her mother, she wrote about visiting a missionary station among the Inuit at Point Barrow, the northernmost point of Alaska. Again, how things have changed:
The afternoon after we arrived we heard all the little Eskimo children screaming and all the dogs howling, and coming out of the bungalow we were told excitedly, “The boat’s coming, the boat! See—the smoke!” . . . By the time it got in sight every man, woman, child, and dog was down on the mudbank to see it. It was tragedy not to be there. “Oh, poor Kay, she’s on duty at the hospital and won’t see it!” someone said.
An old white boat (like the Hudson excursion boats), the water wheel churning foam, was towing a big barge. Everyone speculated:
“Perhaps my shoes will be on it!”
“Doesn’t look like much gasoline—hope there’s more inside.”
. . . .
“Perhaps Mother sent me some fresh tomatoes.”
. . . .
Everyone trooped on board very excited and looked over lists of packages.
“We’ve got a bathtub! You won’t be able to lord it over us any more—a regular bathtub.”
“That’s the new tank for my motorboat. They’ve sent the wrong kind! Look, Lenny, they’ve sent the wrong kind—and I sent them all the specifications. Can’t use it—have to wait till next year.”
In another letter, Lindbergh wrote about the difficulties faced by the missionaries:
I felt as though my life didn’t count for anything against the terrific sternness of that life. And terribly sad. They had been there so long and were old and tired and they dreaded sending David [their 15-year-old son] out. When they first went up there there was no radio, only the one boat, and they heard about the death of one of their sons four months after he died.
About a church service, led by the Presbyterian missionary Henry Griest, she wrote,
It was so strange, terribly strange, to hear Dr. Greist explain the Bible to them.
“‘We have gone astray like sheep.’ Like the reindeer who have scattered on the tundras.”
“‘The power of God.’ Force—like dynamite that blows up the ice sometimes and lets us get a ship out—the dynamite of God.”
During their time in China, the Lindberghs’ trip was cut short when they got news that Anne’s father had died. A few months later, after they were settled back into their rural New Jersey home, Charles, Jr. was taken from his bedroom and killed.
Forty years after the events of 1932, Lindbergh published Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead. In the introduction to the “Hour of Lead” section, she discusses suffering, grief, and courage, and the—sometimes painful—necessity of vulnerability.
What I am saying is not simply the old Puritan truism that “suffering teaches.” I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable. All these and other factors combined, if the circumstances are right, can teach and can lead to rebirth.
. . . .
One must grieve, and one must go through periods of numbness that are harder to bear than grief. One must refuse the easy escapes offered by habit and human tradition. The first and most common offerings of famiy and friends are always distractions (“Take her out”—”Get her away”—”Change the scene”—”Bring in people to cheer her up”—”Don’t let her sit and mourn” [when it is mourning one needs]). On the other hand, there is the temptation to self-pity or glorification of grief. . . .
Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a sheild, permissible for a short time only. In the end one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable—open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering.
(Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1929-1932, Orlando: Mariner, 1993)
[photo: “Col. Lindbergh and Wife Get Ready to Fly the Pacific,” courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, used under a Creative Commons license]