We were gathered in by branches, a generous canopy shielding sun from shoulders that looked mostly like stewed tomatoes. I had told my husband to wear sunscreen the day before, but he hadn’t listened. So this day, we fled the Gulf beach to find shade along the Caloosahatchee River.

I took my sunglasses off and eyed the tree, following the line from one root up the trunk. I paused where the trunk reached a slanted bough and then traced the rest of the way up the incline. There, the limb melded with another trunk that rooted itself in the ground. I could have counted a few hundred of those wooden twists and turns, winding myself around in “wandering mazes lost.” I looked down at a placard and read that the beautiful tangle of branches and trunks all made up one tree.

When it first anchored in that patch of Florida soil, the tree was the size of a rosebush, a souvenir brought back from Harvey Firestone’s trip to India and gifted to his inventor friend, Thomas Edison. The two mad scientists leaked sap from the tree and took it to the laboratory, experiment after experiment, searching out the best rubber for the road.

In other parts of the property, Mina Edison put her creative hands to work, cultivating a moonlight garden full of white flowers that would show bright at night. And she happily crowned herself with the title “home executive.” Her husband’s weakness happened to be her strength. As she tended the Seminole Lodge winter after winter, the wild tree kept growing too, tending itself, jutting out branches and sending down roots that would grow to look like tree trunks.

This is a bit like what Anne Morrow Lindbergh described as the healthy marriage relationship: “With growth, it is true, comes differentiation and separation, in the sense that the unity of the tree-trunk differentiates as it grows and spreads in to limbs, branches and leaves. But the tree is still one, and its different and separate parts contribute to one another.”

There is much to share in my relationship with my husband. He and I love talking about the Scripture and how it sheds light on the situations around us. We enjoy working with words or making music together. We flock to the same vintage meets contemporary style in interior design. We both love our pedestrian-friendly town life. We share the work of caring for our little ones (much different from previous generations as I’ve heard many Baby Boomer women say). And in all those areas, we grow tall together.

But, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh quotes the German poet, Rilke, “A complete sharing between two people is an impossibility…and whenever it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a mutual agreement which robs either one member or both of his fullest freedom and development.”

I have been guilty of expecting my husband to love everything that I love, to share everything in common with me. I want him to try a bite from my exotic plate at dinner. He wants to simply enjoy the predictable thing he ordered. I am drawn to internationals and know how to make small talk in a few languages. He knows how to say “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” I crave homegrown food. He likes meals that come in a box.

And even in the things we have in common, we have our own unique styles. He is all-out rock band. I am singer/songwriter. He thrills to state the case for his philosophies. I shy away from controversy. He’s got skills on the basketball court. I trip over my own feet.

But all these passions of his, though I don’t claim them as my own, they show me a bigger world than the one I knew before. As Rilke said, “But, once the realization is accepted that, even between the closest human beings, infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!”

Like Edison and friends, Anne Morrow Lindbergh dealt with the fact that “theory precedes exploration.” Along with other advancements, the Edison experiments contributed to the better gripping tires we have on the road today. And Mina Edison felt happy contributing to that far reaching effort through her gift of administration.

As for Anne Morrow Lindbergh, she considered the theory of a relationship of equals who allow “space and freedom for growth” and saw herself and her peers as “pioneers trying to find a new path.” She reminded readers that “in the past, [woman] has swung between these two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism. Both extremes throw her off balance; neither is the center, the true center of being a whole woman…. She must become whole.”

We must reach without fear into the open space, follow our God-given passions and become more of the woman each of us was made to be. This happens “when the heart is flooded with love [and, as a result,] there is no room in it for fear, for doubt, for hesitation.” And, as the author asserts, man, too, must “expand the neglected sides of his personality.” Together, we grow tall; individually, we reach wide…and we become “the meeting of two whole fully developed people as persons.”

Now, almost 90 years after Harvey Firestone’s gift was first planted, Thomas Edison’s banyan tree spans a whole acre of land just inside the Gulf Coast…one strong tree sending down roots from wide-reaching branches.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 6, “Argonauta” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}


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