I'm reading a sweet little book written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, during a vacation she took by herself in 1955. It has an island setting, and is the result of her spending two weeks by herself. You'll remember that the Lindbergh's suffered the devastating loss of their first born son to kidnapping. They went on to have five more children, and a bustling life. This book is about life, marriage, change, and the beauty of ourselves, something that we often miss as we age.
In her narrative she uses shells as metaphors for life stages. The sunrise shell for early marriage. All pink and smooth, as with the first blush of love. Then comes the oyster shell with all of the little shells attached to the outside, like our homes, expanded to accommodate our growing family. The oyster is firmly attached to the rocky shore through tough, intertwined netting. Much like the lives we build to support our families, secure our place in society, stability for our children. We are busy during this time. Competing, striving, accomplishing, accumulating.
But then the family begins to leave for shells of their own. And we begin to wonder if we haven't outgrown our oyster shell. Lindbergh writes:
"Perhaps middle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach living; one's pride, one's false ambitions, one's mask, one's armor. Was that armor not put on to protect one from the competitive world? If one ceases to compete, does one need it? Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!"
Middle age should be a time to take stock, let some of life's ambitions go, be okay with being average, everyday, extraordinary in our simplicity. Shedding the things that we've outgrown like our oyster shells, we are now free to explore life in new ways, unencumbered by the things we thought we needed to be happy. Free at last to explore, learn, teach, and nurture our own personal gifts.
Middle age is a time to shed the old, embrace the new, and be happy with what is.