The orchard is not the place to rest; to read, write or think. So begins my ode to Gift from the Sea, the little book that took New York by storm in 1955, yet still resonates deeply with women today. At least it does with me. The journalist in me wants to call the author Anne Morrow Lindbergh by her last name here, but Anne shares my middle name, just the way I spell it. I feel a connection with her, so will use her first name. Anne’s husband was a pilot like my husband, Scott used to be. She had a houseful of kids. She was a writer. Above all, she longed for peace, grace, and simplicity in her life.
I long for that too.
Anne was a woman of her time, navigating the 50’s, probing delicately into questions of balance and relationship before I was born. She asks, “What is the shape of my life?” And goes on to say, “The shape of my life starts with a family. I have a husband, five children and a home just beyond the suburbs of New York. I have also a craft, writing, and therefore work I want to pursue. The shape of my life is, of course, determined by many other things; my background and childhood, my mind and its education, my conscience and its pressures, my heart and its desires. I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen. But I want first of all– in fact, as an end to these other desires– to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact– to borrow from the language of the saints– to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible.”
I want, as much of the time as possible, to live “in grace” too. I wish I could rewrite Anne’s whole book for you here, but that would be plagiarism. So I must speak my own language of my own time, using an orchard instead of the beach to tell of “beautiful and fleeting things” as Anne does.
I think grace, peace, and simplicity are beautiful and fleeting thing in most women’s lives.
I do not understand all of Anne’s philosophy in Gift of the Sea, she is an individual as I am an individual, longing to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which she can function. I want to function in grace too. One of my favorite reflections of hers is, “The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask.”
Alone in the orchard, I shed my mask. I am not the teacher’s wife, Mrs. Bicknell here. Or author Paula Scott here. I am a girl quietly picking fruit after taking a selfie that cracks me up. I laugh because before snapping the picture, I wack myself in the head on a branch heavy with half-ripe apricots while trying to position myself for the camera– I’ve taken maybe five selfies in my whole life– wacking myself is the dork in me, and I love her. She’s not trying to be funny, she just sometimes is, which makes me laugh at her all the more.
Giving myself grace I have found the hardest gig of all, but grace in the orchard comes easier. I don’t measure myself amongst the trees. I enjoy the work. It’s probably one of my best qualities. Certainly serves my family well, that I am a get r done girl. The laundry is always done. The dishes finished fast. I’m good at cooking meals with beef from the pasture and veggies from the garden, if not my own, the garden down the road, that little self-pay fruit stand I love. I always leave an extra dollar or two because I drive by and see the immigrant husband and wife in the field hunched over in their little hats all day long. They work so hard. I admire hard-working immigrants, without them, California would find it very hard to farm. Most locals don’t want to work this way.
I have bowed at the feet of work nearly all my life, it’s been my deity of choice, perhaps this is why God has blessed me with two breakdowns, the second one half as bad as the first, so I am learning. Without grace, I could work myself to death.
Is work your drug of choice too? It comes with an adrenaline rush, no doubt, and a whole lot of praise from mankind. Maybe it’s the praise I live for. Hell for leather after “atta girls.” I’ve been trying to earn love my whole life. My grandma used to say I rode my pony “hell for leather.” What she was really saying is I rode recklessly. I work recklessly too.
As hard as I work, there’s no earning love in the orchard, or perhaps there is. My parents are proud of me when I am picking and selling the family bounty. Of course, I am not nearly alone. Without a doubt, I sweat the least in our orchard. My husband and sons, along with Santos, his wife, and Oma my mom, do the bulk of the hard labor, delivering fruit is easy in an air-conditioned truck after packing in the shed where I do sweat a little. Some days a lot. When I’m not packing fruit early in the morning, I’m not just home lazing about. I’m writing, cleaning, washing, cooking (I’m a crockpot guru), weeding the garden because it’s best to do that early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun backs down. So much of a woman’s life is unappreciated and unseen. Clean up Cheerios from under a high chair and nobody cares. Clean up blood in a hospital and perhaps you’ll get noticed. Clean up on Wall Street and you can bet others will try to imitate you. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said Oscar Wilde.
In the orchard, we have an imitation bird call that releases predator bird screams to scare away the smaller birds that eat our fruit. I nearly fell off the ladder when the system suddenly kicked in and hawks screeched in my ear yesterday. At least my phone wasn’t pinging. Anne Morrow Lindbergh didn’t have an iPhone to stretch her any further than she was already stretched. Sometimes I want to throw my iPhone across the orchard. Sometimes I leave it at home to give myself a break. It’s hard to choose peace, grace, and simplicity over hawks, work, and praise. Who wants to be a small bird in the orchard?
Maybe I do.
I haven’t quite decided. I asked a friend who prays for me to pray that I wouldn’t work too hard this summer. I told myself I wouldn’t write a thing during harvest this year and then I signed up with an editor to finish my memoir. I’m not really writing, I tell myself as I rewrite before and after my chores in the orchard. My whirlwind cleaning the house. My leaps and bounds into the car to drive the boys hither and yon, which really means here and there or to and fro. The language may change, but a woman being fractured by demands from all directions remains the same.
“I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity,” says Anne. “The life I have chosen as wife and mother entrains a whole caravan of complications.” A few pages of observations later, Anne says, “This is not a life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace, it destroys the soul. And this is not only true of my life, I am forced to conclude; it is the life of millions of women in America. I stress America, because today, the American woman more than any other has the privilege of choosing such a life. Woman in large parts of the civilized world has been forced back by war, by poverty, by collapse, by the sheer struggle to survive, into a smaller circle of immediate family life, immediate problems of existence. The American woman is still relatively free to choose the wider life.”
A friend of mine who does missionary work in Africa has noticed and lamented the American woman’s wider life. The deep fragmentation of women here. “Overall, African women are happier in their villages, in the sunshine, barefoot with their families, says my friend, Emily. “Their lives are simple and they smile so much more than we do. I love Africa.”
Over and over I have tried to simplify my life and I find I can’t even simplify my closet, but I’m usually barefoot in my house, and I’m learning I may not ever have a simple life, but I can have simple moments. I can walk out into the orchard and pick a peach. Return to my kitchen sink, wash it, and take a bite, letting the juice drip into the drain as I stare out the window at the orchard, throwing up a heartfelt little prayer to Jesus who gives us grace and peace.