Forward from Here: Leaving Middle Age—and Other Unexpected Adventures
by Reeve Lindbergh

Simon & Schuster, 2008. ISBN 0-7432-7511-X.
Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 05/28/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Creative Life

Forward from Here is Reeve Lindbergh's best book yet. Funny, tender, compassionate, profound, Lindbergh reveals herself to be an accomplished and graceful writer—something you might already suspect if you have read her earlier books, Under a Wing (about growing up Lindbergh, with two extraordinary parents, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh) and No More Words (about her mother's decline and death). In this book, Lindbergh (an author of books for children) explores the happiness and hazards she encounters as she journeys from middle age into her sixties—the "youth of old age." "I might as well enjoy the view as I travel along from my birth to death, inhabiting this being I call myself," she writes. "I may be a passenger on the journey, or I may be the vehicle itself, but I'm definitely not the driver. I'm here, but I'm not in charge."

Maybe, but she's not just along for the ride. In this collection of nineteen personal essays, she laughs at the pleasures of her rural Vermont life—the joys of reading, writing, raising lambs and boys and encountering turtles—and takes a sober look at the challenges of living in an aging body. The vanities of youth are gone (she quotes her beloved sister Anne, now dead of cancer: "After a certain age, there's only so good you can look.") and she is making "friends with reality." Not sure that she wants to wear purple, with a red hat that doesn't go, she looks back on a time when she wore lavender eyeshadow and white lipstick (do you remember doing that? I do) and laughs at herself. In fact, she knows that's the best thing to do: "laugh at myself when laughter is called for, weep when I need to, and feel all of it, every bit of it, as much as I can for as long as I can."

As far as feeling all of it goes, the most remarkable essay is the "Brain Tumor Diary," an account of the months (July 2006 through May 2007) when Lindbergh was dealing with a brain tumor—benign, thankfully, but large, intrusive, undeniably there, and needing to come out. It was a difficult time for her and her family. The saving graces were her writing and her focus on daily life: "Dailiness outlasts despair," she says. "For a while the rhythms of daily life may seem to be submerged, even drowned in disaster, but that is never true." The "Brain Tumor Diary" is a report from the front lines of daily life, lived in the face of possible disaster.

The Lindberghs are no strangers to life on the front lines and in the public eye. Reeve and her siblings have had to deal with as many as fifty men who have claimed to be the Lindbergh child kidnapped in 1932. But there is more, and in her final essay, she writes movingly about the way she felt when she learned that her father, the picture of rectitude, a "stern arbiter of moral and ethical conduct," had three secret European families and seven children. Indignation, anger, rage at her father's deception and hypocrisy, shame—it's all there. But in the end, there is compassion, and even humor:

I certainly could have done without his [my father's] endless lectures on the Population Explosion...A man who fathered thirteen—I think, I still have to stop and count us!—children, haranguing one of his daughters about world population figures? Give me a break!

And in the end, knowing her father to be at once "deeply intelligent and incredibly energetic," and "angry, restless, opinionated...obsessed with his own ideas and concerns," she has to admit that the multiple families made a certain kind of sense: "No one woman could possibly have lived with him all the time."

"I'm hoping that as I get older I'll get braver," Lindbergh writes at the close of this splendid and moving book. I'm hoping that Lindbergh will take us with her as she bravely explores her future, forward from here, and that soon we'll be able to read the next chapter of her journey.

Reeve Lindbergh is the author of several books for adults and children, including the memoir of her childhood and youth, Under a Wing, and No More Words, a description of the last years of her mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She lives with her husband, Nat Tripp, on a farm in northern Vermont.

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