Andersen: The ‘welter of life’ in Aspen
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the beleaguered wife of Charles Lindbergh, was a brilliant writer and thinker. She stoically endured her husband’s mercurial celebrity and suffered their mutual sorrows, one of which was deeply tragic.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh found solace on an island off the East Coast where she collected shells and ruminated on life. Her literary musings offer insight for those of us who find the pleasures of Aspen occasionally overwhelming. In Aspen, we, too, collect shells.
Charles Lindbergh had flown the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic in 1927 and was worshiped as an American hero. One of his worshipers was Adolf Hitler, from whom Lindbergh received a medal presented to him in 1938 by Hermann Goering, just two weeks before Kristallnacht.
Lindbergh’s subsequent anti-interventionist position aligned him with the controversial “America First” movement, which advocated cautious removal from the embroiling turmoil of World War II. His public pronouncements inflamed controversy for him and his family and colored him a Nazi sympathizer.
Six years before this political turmoil dogged the Lindberghs, they faced the worst horror any parents ever could — the kidnapping and murder of their youngest child. Charles Augustus Lindbergh disappeared from his bed when he was 20 months old. The year was 1932.
The child’s body was found after a 10-week search that stirred a media circus. H.L. Mencken called it “the biggest story since the Resurrection.” The suspected killer, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was tried, sentenced to death and electrocuted. Anne Morrow Lindbergh suffered trauma from which she needed escape and perspective.
What has Lindbergh got to do with Aspen? She suggests the need for selectivity in our lives; the need to choose how we use our time when social and cultural demands crowd in on us. This is a luxury crisis, but many of us in the Roaring Fork Valley are stressed by the copious offerings of our communities and the responsibilities of our lives. The challenge is how to apportion our limited time and attention to best advantage.
Lindbergh’s book “Gift of the Sea” describes her island sanctuary and the solace she found there. The final chapter, “Collecting Shells,” follows her process of leaving the island to re-enter “the welter of life,” as she described her existence in exurban Connecticut.
In Aspen, we too have a welter of life. Ours includes concerts, art openings, theater, hiking, biking, dinners with friends, cocktail parties, seminars, lectures, panel discussions and much more. This welter of culture is complicated by mundane demands that we perform as obligations, both necessary and enervating.
Lindbergh describes collecting shells on her island beach as symbolic of our acquisitive natures. At first she collects a multitude of shells that stretch her pockets and line her windowsills. As she prepares to leave, however, she becomes selective, taking only the shells that matter most.
“One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach,” she wrote. “One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. … We can have a surfeit of treasures — an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant.”
In Aspen, our shells are many and beautiful. Here we find a surfeit of entertainments, all of them enriching, so much so that they exert pressures upon us. Unable to select fewer shells, we race from one thing to the next, consumed by too many worthy choices in too short a time.
“The multiplicity of the world will crowd in on me with its false sense of values,” Lindbergh explained. “Values weighed in quantity, not quality; in speed not stillness; in noise, not silence; in words, not in thoughts; in acquisitiveness, not beauty.”
Lindbergh’s prescription: “Simplicity of living, as much as possible, to attain a true awareness of life. … Space for significance and beauty. Time for solitude and sharing. Closeness to nature to strengthen understanding and faith in the intermittency of life: life of the spirit, creative life, and the life of human relationships. A few shells.”
In Aspen, beautiful shells are everywhere. How many we collect depends on our ability to be selective, to choose those that matter most.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org when he’s not out collecting shells.
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