Beauty Of A New Year
The shell in my hand is deserted. It once housed a whelk, a snail-like
creature, and then temporarily, after the death of the first occupant,
a little hermit crab, who has run away, leaving his tracks behind
him like a delicate vine on the sand. He ran away, and left me
his shell. It was once a protection to him. I turn the shell in
my hand, gazing into the wide open door from which he made his
exit. Had it become an encumbrance? Why did he run away? Did he
hope to find a better home, a better mode of living? I too have
run away, I realize, I have shed the shell of my life, for these
few weeks of vacation.
But his shell ˆ it is simple; it is bare, it is beautiful.
Small, only the size of my thumb, its architecture is perfect,
down to the finest detail. Its shape, swelling like a pear in
the center, winds in a gentle spiral to the pointed apex. Its
color, dull gold, is whitened by a wash of salt from the sea.
Each whorl, each faint knob, each criss-cross vein in its egg-shell
texture, is as clearly defined as on the day of creation. My eye
follows with delight the outer circumference of that diminutive
winding staircase up which this tenant used to travel.
My shell is not like this, I think. How untidy it has become!
Blurred with moss, knobby with barnacles, its shape is hardly
recognizable any more. Sure, it had a shape once. It has a shape
still in my mind. What is the shape of my life?
The shape of my life today 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 ˆ in fact, as an end to these other
desires ˆ 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 ˆ to borrow from the languages
of the saints ˆ to live "in grace" as much of the
time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological
sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual,
which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps
what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he
said, "May the outward and inward man be at one." I
would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which
I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.
Vague as this definition may be, I believe most people are aware
of periods in their lives when they seem to be "in grace"
and other periods when they feel "out of grace," even
though they may use different words to describe these states.
In the first happy condition, one seems to carry all one‚s
tasks before one lightly, as if borne along on a great tide; and
in the opposite state one can hardly tie a shoe-string. It is
true that a large part of life consists in learning a technique
of tying the shoe-string, whether one is in grace or not. But
there are techniques of living too; there re even techniques in
the search for grace. And techniques can be cultivated. I have
learned by some experience, by many examples, and by the writings
of countless others before me, also occupied in the search, that
certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of
conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others.
There are, in fact, certain roads that one may follow. Simplification
of life is one of them.
I mean to lead a simple life, to choose a simple shell I can carry
easily ˆ like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that my
frame of life does not foster simplicity. My husband and five
children must make their way in the world. The life I have chosen
as a wife and mother entrains a whole caravan of complications.
It involves a house in the suburbs and either household drudgery
or household help which wavers between scarcity and non-existence
for most of us. It involves food and shelter; meals, planning,
marketing, bills, and making the ends meet in a thousand ways.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
from A Gift From The Sea