Forty-eight hours at the Jersey Shore with girlfriends…what perfect therapy. There’s something about the ease of life at the beach that restores in a way that doesn’t happen in the mountains…or spin class…or even after meditation.
It’s just easy.
I grew up going to the Jersey shore with my family. First day trips…then summer rentals…and later my parents bought a place. No matter the traffic jams or crowds, the beach represents warmth and ease…indulgence and independence.
When we were young, there was “the gang”—our parents had their gang, and we kids had ours. Sure, we needed to check in with our moms for sandwiches or to get money to buy a frozen Milky Way, but otherwise, we were in and out of the water, playing football on the beach or miniature golf or roaming the boardwalk and arcades well into the night.
This weekend with my two girlfriends, it was like déjà vu all over again, including the long list of unhealthy beach foods—chicken wings, popcorn, hoagies, pizza…everything I grew up on and nothing that I eat today. But somehow when you’re at the beach breathing in the salt air and enjoying the hot weather—and no one feels like cooking—those saucy, spicy “comfort foods” taste so good.
My friend lives in a town in south Jersey of two- and three-story homes situated fairly close together, all with porches and awnings that create outdoor living rooms and invite people to stop by to chat as they stroll or ride bicycles past the house.
So what did we do all weekend? We walked…talked…sat…waded…ate.
I am not a sit-still kind of gal, yet at the beach, I have no problem sitting on the warm sand, soaking up the sun and simply watching the world go by. It’s very meditative with the white noise of the ocean in the background.
The beach is a Rockwell-esque painting of slices of family life. Family groups sitting together chatting about the latest local news and gossip…nothing heavy. Most people are reading People magazine or the latest novel. (I definitely stood out from the crowd reading The Alzheimer’s Solution in preparation for an upcoming podcast.)
I love the fact that multiple generations join together to enjoy a day at the beach. I especially love watching the families with little ones who set up their tents and big blankets. Grandma and Grandpa proudly receive visitors who stop by to see the new baby and congratulate the parents. Teenage girls parade along the shore, while teenage boys play ball…fathers play the paddle-ball game Pro Kadima with their kids. These families have been coming to the same beaches and sitting in the same places sometimes for generations.
As we left the house, I asked our host, Jackie, “Where do you usually sit?” It’s what beach people do—they have their place. There are the water’s-edge people and the jetty people. Right side? Left side? They have been sitting in that place next to the same people for years. It’s easier that way. No decisions. No confusion. Everyone just knows where to go and where to find the gang. When we were situated at Jackie’s spot, we were introduced to her neighbors from the block and the family members who were surrounding us in the designated “spot.”
The sun was hot but soothing—or maybe I was just vitamin D–deprived from my days at my desk. The ocean was “refreshing”—that’s the euphemism for OMG, that water is cold, but I am so hot that I will brave it so that I can stop sweating. And there was no rush to make a decision or run home to cook dinner.
In the morning, there was the perfunctory “mom walk.” When our daughters were playing field hockey in college in Washington, DC, these women and I would walk along the Potomac and to the monuments, having the “mom chat” and talking about everything under the sun—that’s how we got to be so close. This past weekend, we walked the boardwalk from end to end—about six miles in total—sharing the pathway with other walkers, joggers, cyclists and those funny surrey bicycles.
Boardwalks are like a summertime version of the Easter Parade. People aren’t in their finest clothing, but they are definitely promenading along the walk, passing the surf shops, arcades, mini-golfs and string of donut, ice cream, taffy and popcorn vendors. By day, the boardwalk is full of young families and those out for a workout. Nutrition is thrown out the window because the temptation of sweet treats is so enticing. It’s not for always, but definitely part of the beach experience. At night, the boardwalk transforms into a festival of lights with teens and young adults cruising with their mini-gangs.
As we walked, Jackie greeted friends. She’d been doing this walk for decades, so of course, she knew people. It took us a few hours to complete our walk, but it didn’t matter. There was no agenda. When we were ready to leave, we left…and whenever we got back, that would be fine, too. We would go to the beach later …and then see what we’d like to do after that.
I can’t talk about life at the beach without acknowledging the lovely sleep most people enjoy after a day of salt air and sun. Like the calm exhaustion that runners have after completing a race, the day-at-the-beach sound sleep comes easily and is deep and restorative. It’s actually quite amusing to watch eyes fall to half-mast at the dinner table, as beachgoers struggle to stay awake till bed time.
Even though traffic made the drive home on Sunday very slow, the ease and relaxation of the outdoors kept the stress at bay. I can’t help but think—as I have said in other blogs at other times—that we would all be far better off if we went to the beach more often. You don’t have to live at the shore to do it. Go to the metaphorical beach. Step away from the haste of life. Step away from the news and the politics, and just sit on the porch or go out in the yard. Connect with your neighbors, or invite some friends over—just to sit, not to entertain. Forget the rules and rush and even allow yourself to indulge in some of that comfort food. The daily pressure to perform is a huge weight that we all carry. You’ll be shocked at how much lighter you’ll feel by putting it on a shelf and suspending the rules…if only for a day or two.