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Monday, March 03, 2014

Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.


Finally the thing I have been wanting to write since yesterday: March 1 was the 82nd anniversary of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.  This anniversary makes the news to this day.  I don't even remember the date when Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, though my mother and grandmother often talked about it--he was their hero (they either chose to ignore, or didn't understand, Lindbergh's activities with the Third Reich).  They also talked about the Lindbergh kidnapping, a lot...my grandmother was in her late teens/early twenties when it happened.  To recap, the Lindbergh's first child, Charlie, was abducted from his nursery and was found dead two months later, off the road, but in sight of the Lindbergh estare in Hopewell, New Jersey.  He probably died the night he was kidnapped, but the kidnappers (and others) continued to extort the Lindbergh family for ransom money, and taunt them with false hope, until the baby's body was found. To this day, a controversy still simmers about whether the killer (who was caught and executed) acted alone in the crime.

Maurice Sendak, who wrote Where the Wild Things Are (and many other wonderful books) was influenced by the kidnapping; he remembered Anne Morrow Lindbergh's tearful radio address a day or two after Charlie was taken; she asked the kidnappers to rub camphor on the baby's chest, as he had a cold.  Later, she published little Charlie's diet in the newspapers, hoping that the kidnappers would have compassion and feed him properly.  Sendak always carried with him, forever, the knowledge that children are incredibly vulnerable.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, to me, was the hero of that time.  I cannot imagine the depth and breadth of such a grief...to be getting ready for bed after talking to your husband over a late dinner and tea, and then be summoned by the child's nanny to the nursery and an empty crib, and an open window, shutters banging back and forth in the howling windstorm which underscored that night.

 I am in permanent admiration of the fact that she survived a grief that I think would have killed an ordinary person.  In one of the best biographies of Anne Lindbergh (by Susan Hertog), there  is a picture of Anne Lindbergh sitting alone on a stone wall outside her home, some time before she had to testify in the kidnapping trial.  The grief on her face is so raw that it sears to the bone...she is an ordinary woman in a scarf and coat, sitting quietly on a low white wall--but her grief is more intense, more REAL, than any Pieta.  And she lived through it somehow (though in her old age, muddled by small strokes, she would tell people she heard a baby crying and that it needed to be fed).  

Anne wrote about walking with her mother and sister shortly after Charlie's death; the women happened on a dogwood tree in full and massive white bloom.  The sight brought Anne to her knees on the muddy ground, all that beauty and burgeoning unbearable. White flowers seem to underscore that terrible time--fruit trees in pale and lovely bloom, a dogwood tree, the pure white tulips she had planted in such hope when little Charlie was still alive, which came up twisted, broken, unable to open and flower because the footsteps of the police and sightseers, and the kidnappers themselves, had crushed the sleeping bulbs.  And yet Anne survived, her life like a tree growing tall around a great scar.  

How does anyone ever carry such a grief?  We grieve the most for the things we love the most, for the lives entwined with ours which are, for whatever reason, taken away.  A grief like Anne Lindbergh's is unfathomable.  I lost a child myself, but not in that way.  Every day around the world, children are harmed in horrific ways, and for each child harmed, a mother or father, or both, grieves to the limits of human endurance.  Such things have made me question, more often than not, the very existence of God.  I would have to be the Buddha himself to forgive such evil.  

When I think of these things, I consider how small my grief really is, how lucky I am to be grieving what is, all in all, a manageable grief.  I lost a lot of things dear to me in a space of about three weeks, the rug torn out from under me, but I did not lose a child to death, and I had a huge cushion in CG and Thistle.  I have no memory whatsoever of December except for the Solstice gathering.  I look back at my posts in that time, incredulous, because I don't even remember writing them!  And yet I endured to this point, where the grief is still ragged and makes itself known, especially in this rainy-yet-burgeoning spring.  Yet I have a growing sense of what it means to bloom again, to grow myself around a scar, to make it a part of my landscape but not have it engulf the entire country of myself.

It is all I can do.  It is all anyone can do.  And the surviving, the willingness to set one's sails forward instead of foundering, is a testament to the heart's resilience.