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Op-Ed: Unplugging at the Beach | Batavick


The tranquil Sea Isle Beach, Sea Isle N.J. (photo credit Sea Isle City)


Frank J. Batavick | CNBNewsnet


The placid ocean shimmered in the evening sun. Undulating ribbons of foam-kissed waves gently petted the shore. Long fingers of color — moss green, marine gray, midnight blue — softly vibrated across the surface like rippling beach chair fabric. As a laughing gull soared silently above, a 40-something, bikini-clad woman — tall and tan and middle-aged and lovely — came ambling by ... texting … tap, tap, tapping … staring at her iPhone. And nature gently wept.

Forgive my tortured prose, but you get the idea. This woman's violation of my summer reverie really bothered me. Here I was with my wife on an almost deserted beach in glorious Sea Isle City, N.J., sipping cocktails and, at this magic, twilight hour, a woman passes who appears oblivious to the natural majesty that surrounds her.

Why is it that our society has such a hard time unplugging from the digital world, even when on vacation? During the day I had observed pockets of teens lounging in beach chairs, staring at their smart phones and texting. Most probably, the messages were being sent to friends on an adjoining blanket, much like notes passed in class. Some kids with earbuds languidly screened videos and movies. On the beach! I guess watching the soothing waves just can't compete with the relentless, cliff-hanging action of Mission Impossible II. Even the friendly Fudgy Wudgy guy pushing his cart of ice cream and water ice through the sugar-like sand stopped in front of us to read and respond to a text.

Something is jarringly wrong with this picture. Summer vacations should be about jettisoning the trappings of your everyday world, clearing the mind and recharging your batteries. (No, not your phone's Lithium-ion batteries, your internal batteries.) Not to get too ethereal, but while on holiday you should be trying to connect with your inner-self and the eternal truths of existence, not with dear Aunt Fanny or the folks back at the office. And there is no better place to do this than at the beach, especially in the early morning and evening hours when the lighting is soft and golden and Hallmark Hall of Fame inspiring.

One of the best meditations on the affective beauty of the seashore is a slim volume by Ann Morrow Lindbergh, "Gift from the Sea," written in 1955. (Yes, she was the wife of that Lindbergh.) Almost every page blooms with life-altering insights:

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea."

"Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid."

You won't get your validity license stamped if you don't open yourself to the full beach experience. There are many life-lessons to be had where ocean meets shore. Note the ever-changing landscape. As the cleansing tide rolls in, it removes all evidence of the day's activities — sand castles and sculptures and the hole where you buried Colin up to his neck. In the morning, the receding tide has spilled an array of shells on the beach, most shattered like shards of broken china. If you get up early enough and are lucky, you may find an intact nautilus shell to adorn your home garden. Note: You are free to supply your own personal metaphor for the tide's ceaseless cycle of taking and giving.

Mountain lakes are certainly nice, but for my money you can't beat the sun, sand and surf of the beach. If you go, enjoy your beach reading, music listening and even texting. But just remember to unplug once in a while to allow your senses to connect to the big, beautiful world that surrounds you.

Full disclosure: Lest you think I have no sense of irony, the first paragraph was written in the Notes section of my iPhone after I witnessed the woman texting. Yea, I just couldn't relax. Mea culpa.

Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ.  He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.