People Need People, As Seen at the Beach

082714I spent a few days at Bethany Beach (in Delaware) this week with four other priests, thanks to some very generous lay people who allowed us to stay in their house. In Washington we speak of going to the beach. But in nearby Baltimore they say, “We’re goin’ down-e-ocean.” I think in New Jersey they call it  “going down the shore,” as in the 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 provide an image of the Kingdom.

A brief thought occurred to me today as I walked along the water, this time alone. I began my walk right in the center of Bethany Beach, just down from the center of the boardwalk. The beach was rather crowded—lots of people, chairs and umbrellas everywhere, kids running back and forth into and out of the water.

As I headed north walking right on the shore, I noticed that the crowd thinned out quite quickly, so that within a hundred yards of where the boardwalk ended the beach became quite empty with just a few folks here and there.

Why, I wondered, did people huddle together so? I would think that people would prefer to spread out a little, would want some privacy, and might be willing to walk a ways to get it. Instead, they crowded together in an eight-block area along the Bethany Beach Boardwalk.

It occurred to me that despite our often-expressed desire for space and privacy, this image of people huddling together had important lessons to teach.

The chief and uniting lesson is that ultimately people need people. Crowding close together at the beach meant that there were others to provide not only company but safety. There were plenty of lifeguards, and if any trouble were to arise, 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 as well as vendors selling beach gear. There was even a free town Wi-Fi signal in the air. Public bathrooms were nearby as was a safety station and a police presence. A lot of children, some of whom had only just met that day, were playing together, teaching each other to surf, riding boogie boards, or building 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 other people and provide necessary services, protection, and company. Space and solitude have their place, but it really is more instinctual, even in this wide-open country, to cluster together in cities. For all of our complaints about crowds, in the end it’s good to have other people 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).

Beach Baby from Tom Stillwell on Vimeo.


26 Replies to “People Need People, As Seen at the Beach”

  1. This is definitely true, great post! I am a pretty private person, so if I reach out to others it usually means I have something weighing heavily on my mind and I could use a friend to either talk about it, distract me, or both. I think that there is a need in all of us to want to connect and belong.

    1. I second that; and I would ask Monsignor to invite all of us to his next field trip!

  2. Woe is me! Yes, though knowing I’m never truly ‘alone’, during a recent fast I realized it’s not right to live this way. Thank you.

  3. This is true at the south end of Bethany, as well; the crowds thin the further south you go. Bethany Beach has always been more family-oriented than the other Delaware beaches, so I suspect the crowds toward the center of the town have more to do with the lifeguards. I’m sure the proximity to eateries and bathrooms comes into play, too, as you stated. There is safety in being closer to people in a beach environment. How many times did one of ours wander off in the blink of an eye while tending to the others? All it takes is a blink. There was always someone within a stone’s throw of our blankets and umbrella that brought him back. (It was always the same one!) Or our older boys starting a game of volleyball and seeing in short order how many others had joined in the fun. It’s always pleasurable watching families enjoying one another in the sand and surf. Often these vacationers had rented for the week, so within a day or two the faces were familiar. In some cases even names were exchanged.
    Your post brought back countless memories of our annual trek to Bethany. Alas, we’re hundreds of miles away now. Our children are grown, but the grandchildren are soon to arrive. Perhaps we should consider reviving our family vacation time by returning to Bethany.

  4. Monsignor, one minor point… Many people in areas around Baltimore say they are “goin’ downey oshun, Hon!” Chef Gordon Ramsey even did a TV show on “Kitchen Nightmares” and attempted to save the “Cafe Hon” which was going out of business because the owner had trademarked the word “hon”. People rose up in anger and boycotted the Cafe in Hamden.

    Have no idea of its derivation, but it is still used everywhere.

  5. JMJ Popes (the Catholic Church, years ago) use to warn against the sins of Immodesty and Sinfull Fashions, Clothing, swim wear etc. Today Sin is taken out of their teachings about what is Sinfull. I wonder how many immodest bathers(?) the good Priests admonished about their Lack of Modesty? Immodesty may not be taught by members of the Clergy but It’s still Sinfull, Look in God”s house and notice the immodestly dressed, men, women and Children. Writing about it in the Church newsletter etc. is Not Teaching, it’s a Cop out. Respectfully with Love, joseph J. Pippet

      1. Is Mr Pippet possibly objecting to your posting a photograph of immodestly dressed persons? I know I was a little surprised by the particular photo you chose to illustrate this post…

      2. Msgr. with de respect it is wonderful that you have brought up many times about immodesty on your blog, but then why this picture and video depicting half naked women (men too) in provocative poses. Something is amiss terribly. Unfortunately, when a priest seems to condone opposite sexes being together half naked for companionship, it certainly isn’t going to help them grow in the virtue of Chastity.

        1. Gosh, I dunno. I can barely see anything in the picture. AM I going blind? Its a picture of a lot of people from a distance. I didn’t look that intensely at the details of the picture, it was just a picture of people at the beach for all I thought. As for the video, I didn’t see a lot of immodesty, maybe a bikini or two, but most of the pics are old, but I didn’t look that closely. (So anyway, I changed the picture since the picture wasn’t the point).

          You are right, and I have written a good bit before about modesty and even several articles about the problems at the beach. That said, my article here has nothing to do with that.

          As for pictures videos that have so upset you, I am sorry that you are upset, so upset as to comment four times here.

          However, modesty comes from the word “mode” meaning middle. I DO think bikinis are wrong, but few are listening. Someone, I can’t recall if it was you, suggested I even have no business being at the beach.

          I guess at the end of the day the main concern I have for your comments and that of a few others is that we avoid being prudes. I am not happy about bikinis and have written as much. But that said, I can go to the beach and not be all that tempted. Frankly, most people look silly, especially when they are underdressed. Most women, (an I suppose men too) think they look a lot better than they do. I am not all that tempted personally and I guess innocent men behave innocently. I don’t really spend all that time on the sand, I walk along the shore, and otherwise am up in town.

          I don’t see the beach as sin city (Bethany has a good reputation for being a family beach). And though occasionally I do see a pretty girl, I see that back in the city too. I am chaste, and though I think the modesty question should be discussed and that greater modesty should be encouraged, (I would like to see women wear bathing suits that more resembled the bathing dresses of the 1920s and before, and for men to not go bare chested – I don’t go with out a shirt, indeed, no one other than my doctor has ever seen me without a shirt), but there are prudential decisions involved too in which reasonable people will differ.

          I will not personally change culture and neither will you. I am not sure being prudish and scolding is helpful either. I would prefer a more healthy discussion of the matter that at least does not presume that everyone at the beach is going sexually crazy by what they see. I certainly am not. I do think some men are troubled and that most women have little real idea of the thoughts they incite in men. That said, we are not all drooling as you suggest. But many men also find most women far more attractive when they are dressed nicely, maybe all women would go away and hide? The point I am making is that things are a bit more complicated that you present and your sweeping condemnation of everyone at the beach, and personal scolding of me it not helpful.

          Your four comments do not indicate to me the kind of poise I would like to see. Our culture has gotten into this situation by a sort of desensitization. Usually the way back in these sorts of situations is not to throw cold water, but to engage people in stages and resensitize them.

          I’d like to see more modesty in our culture, but I am not sure it would be helpful to have you on the front lines of that battle. In one of my previous posts on modesty, I featured a video of a woman who had designed and was selling more modest swimwear. Many liked what they saw. But sadly many too ripped into her personally since she was wearing a dress that was sleeveless and her dress didn’t come far enough below the knee and she was in heels, and, some of the suits weren’t modest enough, and, and, and…. So here’s a woman trying to walk us back from practical nudity for some young girls at the beach (which a bikini frankly is) and she is being ripped to shreds by some who ought to applaud her walking the whole thing back a bit. At least it was a good start. I felt so bad I had to close of comments for a time. So I dunno, I am not going to defend myself to you, as if it would do any good, except to say that I was not drooling all week and the beach. Innocent men behave innocently and it did not occur to me that something was awful in the pictures and videos.

          I wrote on the loss of innocence, the rise of cynicism and the presumption of predatory sexual thought in our culture a couple of weeks ago, in a commentary on Anthony Esolen’s recent book. Here:

    1. So glad there are others out there who can see sin when it is so BLATANTLY obvious, you most likely are in the State of Grace!
      God Bless

    2. Well if the beach area is family oriented, would that help to promote modesty? Just wondering.

  6. Fr.,
    As a life-long resident of the Jersey shore, you are right about the phrase “goin’ down the shore”. At the risk of providing info most will place at the far, far end of the spectrum of importance, only those in NJ who DON’T live at the shore say that.

    If you live close to the coast, you don’t use that phrase. You simply say, “goin’ to the beach.”


      1. I’m not a man, so I don’t find the picture to be a temptation per se. But I don’t really like it. Anymore than I like it when other women dress that way in real life. I admit I was surprised you posted it.

    1. Sorry, I posted on Msgr’s and I meant yours, Joshua, that was a very good response!

  7. It is hard to believe that any good can come out of being at the beach, where most are dress indecent, causing the most saintly person to succumb to sexual thoughts, or even words or deeds.
    I think we can find better places than the beach for companionship etc. In fact the saints say that it is better to be alone than to be in the company of those who could be a near of occasion of sin, because many come back less a man.

    If we need anyone to lift us up Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the saints can fill in the loneliness. Also the Scripture that was quoted:
    “Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up “Ecclesiastes 4:11).
    Certainly can not be applied at the shore/beach (and other places too) it would not lift anyone up, but instead pull us down to our natural lower animal desires.
    – Joyce

  8. I don’t get these rebukes at all. What photo are you talking about? There’s nothing lust inducing at the beach unless you actually like seeing fat old women in bikinis and bird chested dudes. In 40 years I’ve never seen anyone who looked like a model or a starlet. And what was Father to do; excommunicate the whole beach?

    1. Monsignor Pope has changed the photo. 🙁 too many were upset by it.

      I just wanted a road trip with, Monsignor. No matter where we go, my heart
      eyes and mind would be engrossed with learning from this good shepherd.

      God bless!

  9. I played the 45s on the radio in the 60s and had completely forgotten this song. Thanks.

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