Saturday, July 19, 2008

Forward from Here

Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, used the occasion of her sixtieth birthday to publish a new collection of essays entitled, Forward from Here: Leaving Middle Age—and Other Unexpected Adventures. (I often wonder at the necessity of the “coloned” book title. Would we not understand the title without this seemingly parenthetic explanation?) The Hippie lifestyle in Vermont as described in the first essay, "Hippies in the Hot Tub," didn’t exactly mirror my 1970s experiences; however, Lindbergh’s thoughtful passages regarding the who’s and the what’s of passing life experiences grabbed me and didn’t let go until the last page.

From Publishers Weekly
In this collection of poignant essays, Lindbergh struggles to extract meaning, and even solace, from an imperfect everyday reality. Heading her list of concerns is her looming 60th birthday and the change and decline that it symbolizes-the departure from home of her children, a benign brain tumor, the therapeutic drug culture that is the hallmark of old age in America. Despite her anxieties and losses, she manages to find in fragile, flawed things-a broken sea shell, a heron that's lost a leg-a kind of beauty. Lindbergh also explores her fraught relationship with her father, the aviator Charles Lindbergh, "an angry, restless, opinionated perfectionist" whose "very presence alternately crowded and startled everyone," and grapples with the discovery that he had secretly fathered seven children-her half siblings-in Europe. Set mostly amid the tranquil surroundings of her Vermont farmstead, Reeve's essays are suffused with a sly, gentle humor that supports her quiet resolve to carry on.

On relationships:
There is something wonderful about unexpected affection, whether it develops between an octogenarian and an eight-year-old, a staunch conservative Republican and a progressive liberal Democrat, or a Yankee farmer and a hippie homesteader. It delights me that every so often the good feeling that two people have for each other is too strong for their biases and their upbringing, and defeats both in a flood of fellow feeling neither can explain.

On aging:
Fortunately, fears fed by the imagination tend to lose energy and diminish over time. Now I’m close to sixty, and though I don’t always recognize the face I see in the mirror, something has changed in the way I think about aging and dying. I have an increased awareness of my own aging. The process increasingly interests and amazes me, annoys and irritates me, and sometimes it still frightens me, too, but much, much less than it used to. I find that along with the annoyance and irritation there is amusement—how often and in how many places can I lose my glasses in a day?—and that in the place of the old fear for my own physical survival there is an ongoing very real sadness at the absence of the friends and family members who have died before me.

On love and loss:
As I journey on, I carry my lost loved ones with me: my sister, my mother, and all the others. I have learned over the years that I can do this, that love continues beyond loss. It continues not abstractly but intimately, and it continues forever. My experience has also made me understand that loss is inevitable, and that loss, too, continues forever, right along with love.

On “ongoingness”:
There have been one or two horrible times in my life, as there are in too many lives, when the “ongoingness” my mother taught me to value was interrupted in a radical way and neither daily rhythms nor the discipline of writing could restore my balance. An event can be so cataclysmic that it pulls its surviving victims right out of life to plummet into a deep and terrible darkness where there is no solid ground and where day-to-day comforts are meaningless. I have learned by living through a few such times, however, that daily life has a strength and a staying power even more persistent than the terrible downward forces of catastrophe. Dailiness outlasts despair. For a while the rhythms of daily life may seem to be submerged, even drowned in disaster, but that is never true. Sooner or later, after mornings and evenings and mornings and evenings and mornings and evenings again, however many of them it takes, and never by dishonoring reality or by displacing grief, never by rushing the inevitability of feeling, meaning always returns.

On sustenance as we age:
I’m convinced that what we really need most to sustain us as we grow older, more than any drug on the market, is this kind of appreciative awareness, along with compassion, a sense of humor, and simple common sense. Side effects will include a certain amount of pain, a fair share of sorrow, recurring doses of discomfort great and small, and an immeasurable, priceless quantity of peace of mind.

There are many more passages that I have marked, but I will leave it to your reading of Forward from Here to find the words that sing out to you.

After hearing Ms. Lindbergh speak at Porter Square Books on May 7, I am looking forward to reading Under a Wing and No More Words. And I am eagerly hunting down her children’s books written in rhyme!

Forward from Here would be a thoughtful reading for everyone, not just those of us approaching or in our 60s. Any reader could find direction in learning to embrace the everyday, to appreciate the details of life from the hissing of a teakettle to the crunch of stone underfoot on a daily walk, or to make friends with that most important person in life--yourself.

5/5 (Non-fiction scale)
Simon & Schuster (2008)
220 pages
Finished: May 2008

Dedication: To Nat

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