I spent a few days at the beach this week with five other priests, thanks to the loan of a house from some very generous lay people. In Washington we speak of going to the beach. But in nearby Baltimore they “We’re goin’ down-e-ocean.” In think in Jersey they speak of going to the shore, as in Jersey shore. At any rate, thank God for a restful time, lots of long walks along the shoreline, interesting discussions and good food. In fact, according to the Scripture story of the Road to Emmaus, Walking, talking and dining, is an image for the Kingdom.
Just a brief thought that occurred to me today as I walked, along the water, this time alone. I began my walk, right in the center of Bethany Beach Delaware, just down from the center of the boardwalk. The beach we rather crowded, lots of people, chairs, umbrellas, kids running back and forth into the water.
As I headed north walking right on the littoral (where water meets land), I noticed the crowd thinned out quite quickly, so that, within a hundred yards of where the boardwalk ended the beach became quite empty, just a few folks here and there.
Why, I wondered did people huddle together so? It would seem that people would prefer to spread out a little, would want privacy, and might be willing to walk a little to get that space and privacy. Instead, they huddled together in a crowded eight block area of beach along the Bethany Boardwalk.
It occurred to me, that despite out often expressed need for spaciousness and privacy, this image of people huddling together had important lessons to teach.
The chief and uniting lesson is that ultimately people need people. Huddling close together meant that there were others to provide not only company but also safety. There were plenty of life guards, and if any trouble arose, plenty of people nearby to help. Where there are people, there are also many conveniences near at hand. There were food vendors up on the nearby boardwalk and also those selling beach gear. There was a free town Internet signal in the air. Public Bathrooms were also nearby as were as was a safety station and police presence. A lot of kids, who had just met that day, were also playing together and teaching each other to surf, ride boogie boards or build sand castles.
A simple lesson really but somehow beautifully painted for me at Bethany Beach, people need people. People benefit from other people. People take care of people and provide necessary services, protection and company. Space and solitude have their place, but it really is more our instinct, even in this wide open country to huddle together in cities. For all our complaints about crowds, in the end it’s good to have other people in good numbers close at hand.
It was all a painting of what Scripture says: Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:11).