Soaring Heights and Tragic Depths in the Life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

January 11, 2013 § 2 Comments

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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.

Lindbergh wrote a full account of her Asia voyage in her first book, North to the Orient. Newsreel footage from the trip can be seen at this link, courtesy of PBS’s Chasing the Sun.

(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]

Comfort vs Encouragement: Jesus’ Responses to Mary and Martha

August 14, 2012 § 5 Comments

The past few weeks have been kind of tough for my wife and me. Not long ago, we marked the one year anniversary of our return to the States after living in Taiwan for 10 years. We assumed that by this time we’d have this next stage of our life on track, but instead, we’ve got a lot of loose ends, still looking for full-time work and long-term housing. As Ruth Van Reken says (talking about Third Culture Kids, but it has broad applications), “Every time there’s transition, there is loss,” and then she adds that “where there’s loss, there’s grief.”

One of the ways I’ve dealt with our losses is by attending a “grief group.” While most of the other people in the meetings have lost loved ones, I have found it very helpful to hear their stories and learn general principles for dealing with grief.

The more I hear the experiences of those who are going through difficult times, the more I’m convinced that good listeners are hard to find—and I’m sure I don’t always fall into that category, myself. Too many people would rather offer quick-fix cliches than to share in another person’s grief. In fact, we even have a hard time accepting our own grief. Grief counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, in The Journey through Grief: Reflections on Healingwrites about the grieving process,

I must keep opening and changing through it all until I become the unique person who has transcended the pain and discovered self-compassion—a vulnerable yet grounded me who chooses to live again.

“Self-compassion” is an interesting concept, as compassion comes from the Latin com and pati, meaning “with” and “suffer,” respectively. So according to Wolfelt, we must discover how to “suffer with” ourselves.

In a previous post, I quoted Van Reken as saying,

There is a proper place for encouragement (“you’ll do fine,” “just think about others who have so much less,” etc.) but when it happens too soon, it can also abort the grieving process. Comfort is simply acknowledging the loss, validating its reality, and giving the person space to grieve properly before pushing him or her to move on or past it.

She elaborated on this idea in a presentation I heard her give several years ago, citing a wonderful example from the New Testament: When Jesus traveled to Bethany after the death of his friend Lazarus, Lazarus’s sister Martha came out to meet him:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

(John 11:221-27 NIV 1984)

This, says Van Reken, is an example of encouragement, given by Jesus because he knew the needs of Martha. But Van Reken sees herself more as a Mary, Lazarus’s other sister. According to Van Reken, Mary didn’t need encouragement, she needed comfort:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

(John 11:32-35 NIV 1984)

While both sisters said the same thing to Jesus, he responded to them in different ways. Van Reken, in an e-mail discussion by the SIM AMK Task Force, says that while Jesus “appealed to [Martha’s] reason and gave her truth as information,” with Mary

Jesus entered into her experience with the truth of his compassion and comfort. Words to her would have bounced like icicles on her heart. Didn’t anyone CARE? And He showed, He cared. I love it that Jesus knows us well enough to meet us as the people He made us to be. I love it when He meets others in their way—but sometimes when they try to meet ME in their way, or I try to meet them in MY way, we can clash. I think they don’t care because they aren’t on the floor crying with me, and they think I’m a basket case who needs to look at the facts a little more clearly and I’ll be “just fine.”

I think that many of us are Marys. We need tears of compassion rather than words of reason. And I would suggest that, lacking the insight of the Son of God, we would do well to start with the kind of comfort that comes alongside those who are grieving, instead of trying to pull them out of their grief with our words or actions. There will be time for encouragement, when the griever is ready. For many of us, it’s not that we don’t understand the encouraging truths, it’s just that other truths, of loss and pain and sadness, are demanding our attention, and we push them away too soon at our own peril.

“My process has been hard at times because so much of our system of faith precludes the simplicity of the ‘Jesus wept’ verse,” says Van Reken. “And for whoever I am, those kinds of tears will change more for me than anything else. The problem with a quick spiritual answer is I actually KNOW the answer; I’m just not there yet.”

(Peter Katona, “More and More Americans Consider Themselves ‘Hidden Immigrants,’” Columbia News Service, February 27, 2007; Alan Wolfelt, The Journey through Grief: Reflections on Healing, Fort Collins: Companion Press, 1997, p 42; Ruth Van Reken, “Mary and Martha,” Simroots Open Dialogue)

[photo: “The Eye of Eliza,” by Augusto Serna, used under a Creative Commons license]

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