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Sep 02 2017

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Reflections From the Road

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Chincoteague, VA – Smuggler’s Cove….

Vacations, if you are lucky enough to take one, are annual pauses that, ideally, allow us to relax, reflect and renew. My sojourn this year lasted ten enchanted days, spent exclusively at different points on our nation’s coast line.

I ate well, slept deeply, and played hard, enjoying friendships that go back three decades. I kayaked through white-capped waves and set new daily records on my Fitbit. I dispensed with my phone and computer and made time to watch sunsets and surf, as well as Egrets and Osprey. I figured out the time based on the tide instead of my watch.

Vacations are regularly defined by what we wish to get away from, and for me, this year, it was the news.

In the year since my last break, it has simply exhausted me with a more intense pace and Jerry Springer quality.  If I did watch TV, it was exclusively for movies (“The Mummy” – horrendous.  “Wonder Woman” – serviceable. “The Godfather” – classic). I ignored my FB and Twitter feeds. I turned away from restaurant TVs broadcasting cable news. I didn’t buy newspapers.

That kind of radical reorientation brings with it a similarly sudden adjustment in views, providing insight and context that I hope lasts beyond my first days back in the regular world. But to my surprise, despite my best efforts, my break confirmed for me that some issues are simply part of our fabric, even if a holiday brings them into different focus.

First and foremost, there is the entitlement state.

I regularly write and speak about entitlements and how our deeply indebted country cannot afford what has been promised, and worse, that no one in public life is willing to address it seriously. But little did I know that there is a much greater entitlement crisis that consumes the day-to-day lives of so many Americans.

Children.

Not to be alarmist, but it is an epidemic.

Lounging on the beaches of southern NJ, I was quite literally surrounded by a bottomless pit of highly customized, and ever-expanding need for immediate gratification. Parents, who organize logistical miracles with the help of garbage can sized containers filled with toys, food, water, blankets and umbrellas, are under near constant barrage from off-spring for whom the slightest deviation in spontaneous expectation can produce catastrophic meltdowns.

Safely ensconced in my beach chair, enjoying the sun and the breeze, my friend splashing in the surf with her own charges, I took in the activity before me.

One youngster to my right flew into a fit of rage because a bit of crust had made it into his PB&J. I’m fairly certain that Kim Jong-Un has had generals executed during far less extreme fits of temper. A mothers quick response, to rip off the offending crust, only made things worse. It appears to have tainted the entire sandwich, which then focused attention on the perfectly trimmed PB&J that the youngster’s sister was munching. That, in turn, triggered an outburst about the sins of perceived favoritism for which there is no easy answer, when randomness is the culprit.

This kind of drama played out again and again, in episodes both large and small.

The consistent, unrecognized heroes in this saga were the parents. Tender, stoic and determined, they guided their offspring without recognition or thanks, the only acknowledgement being the unspoken, knowing-nod between families managing the many bouts of pre-pubescent, public volatility. My newfound respect here is enduring. In my book, each father and mother were part of an elite group whose psychological toughness would earn the respect of Navy SEAL instructors.

And of course, there is the issue of inequality.

I’m social on the beach, striking up conversations with those that I pass as I walk the shoreline. In the course of a day, I met a family man who appeared to have made a very good living on Wall Street, as well as a local plumber, out for the day with his wife. From my beach chair perch later on, I watched both of them taken down by an unexpectedly strong wave.

Amid inequality there are also life’s larger equalizers.

Over recent years, and most particularly since the 2016 election, we have been bombarded with talk about of disintegrating social fabric, with fault lines based on class, gender and creed. It’s easy to buy into this in our regular lives, as we mostly see the same people each day, which serves to isolate and perhaps reinforce abstract theories as fact.

But that dissolves on vacation. From ritzy Cape May, NJ to working class Chincoteague, VA, I met an assortment of people from radically different backgrounds, but whom, to a person, were largely indistinguishable from me in taking on life’s challenges one day at a time.

There was the extended Muslim family that started a pick-up volleyball game, inviting me to play, and the salty sea dog in a power boat, who diverted his course to make sure I knew that if I continued to kayak further out, I’d likely capsize quicker than the S.S. Poseidon. More than one person ventured  into the deep water to save “Surfer Dude” ($19.99 at Walmart) for young children who had thrown the toy too far out into the waves, threatening the Dude with Tom Hanks’ fate in “Cast Away.” Small acts of courtesy and kindness abounded from people of genuine decency and generosity. It transcended the artificial day to day divisions we see played out in the news, and was the source of renewed hope and optimism.

I’m back now, preparing for the post-Labor Day burst of activity that truly signals the end of summer. I’ve fully caught up on the news and the full horror of Harvey. Amid the catastrophic damage, I see in the spontaneous rescue efforts some of the same threads I found on holiday; neighbors helping neighbors. Decency instead of division.

That is a hopeful sign not just for me, but for the nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 comment

  1. Mark from Alewa

    Heard you on Rick’s show this morning. Missed your insights, but am glad you got a chance to recharge your batteries. When Rick alluded to you that we have beaches here, the thought ran thru my head, “Yeah…but then he would have to help pay for rail!” Too cynical? Maybe. I’ll just go to the beach later. Welcome back!

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