It’s been one day since I returned home from vacation and I already miss the long, languid days at the beach, the seemingly endless, formless hours stretching before me. Most of all, I miss the sense of freedom from obligation and duty. Monday morning and I’m back to my normal routines: writing, teaching. Serious adult duties like emails and meetings.
What is so vital about vacationing? According to wise and warm-hearted Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a trip to a faraway place can give us much needed time to recharge. In the cramped corners of life, we have little space: space to rest, space to reflect, space to relax, space to dream. Most women’s lives are a “caravan of complications.” We juggle careers along with raising children. We grocery shop and meal plan. We mop floors and clear out cabinets. We do laundry. We sew and mend clothing. We carpool our kids to piano and choir and soccer practice. We pay bills and make doctor’s appointments. As Lindbergh writes, “to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions…like spokes from a wheel.”
Lindbergh suggests a serene island retreat can help us cut down on distractions and regain balance in an unbalanced world. In her lovely book Gift from the Sea, Lindbergh writes of her own restorative retreat at Captiva Island in the early 1950s. Far removed from the million and one obligations of her everyday life as a wife and mother, Lindbergh could finally reflect on what really mattered. The result? A book of timeless meditations on simplicity and solitude, love and marriage, youth and age.The state of modern woman is fragmentation. She is tugged in a thousand directions at home, at work, as a wife to her husband, as a mother to her children. While she’s spreading blackberry jam on her toast in the morning, she’s not delighting in the dawn or the invigorating smell of fresh coffee— she’s frantically reminding her daughter to put her math homework in her backpack and rehearsing her presentation for that day’s meeting.
Just as Alain de Botton argues traveling to new places can inspire new thoughts, Lindbergh suggests a different setting— an island paradise (or secluded mountain cabin or cottage in the country)— can teach us to live differently. Far from our routines, we act out of the ordinary. Rather than worry about tomorrow or obsess about yesterday, we can finally appreciate today. Under a sweltering summer sun and Caribbean blue sky, there is only us and the reassuring crash of the sea.
On her holiday, Lindbergh finds immense peace in being an island, disconnected from the “real” world and cut off from the pressures of day-to-day living:
“How wonderful are islands! Islands in space, like this once I have come to, ringed about by miles of water, linked by no bridges, no cables, no telephones. An island from the world and the world’s life. Island’s in time, like this short vacation of time. The past and future are cut off; only the present remains. Existence in the presence gives island living an extreme vividness and purity. One lives like a child or a saint in the immediacy of here and now. Every day, every act, is an island, washed by time and space, and has an island’s completion. People, too, become like islands in such an atmosphere, self-contained, whole, serene.”
For Lindbergh, a sojourn to the sea can teach us the value of simplicity. In the ordinary world, our lives are endlessly complicated: we have countless possessions, countless things on the calendar, countless responsibilities. But on a beach with a small suitcase and an empty planner, we rediscover a sense of serenity. Like a prisoner of war or monk in a monastery, we realize we don’t need much to be happy. If we are to bring this repose to our regular lives, we must simplify. We must ask, as Lindbergh does with lyrical lucidity, “how little, not how much, can [we] get along with. To say— is it necessary?— when [we] are tempted to add one more accumulation to [our lives], when [we are] pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.”