Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You're Not From Around Here, Are You

I took a couple of days to wander off to the Jersey shore this week, to study and write and rest. It is Holy week in the church--a time for churches to be at our busiest remembering the days leading up to Christ's crucifixion, culminating with trumpets and glory on Easter Sunday as we celebrate the empty tomb and victory over death.

This also means there were no classes at Drew since most of the students and faculty are involved in said busyness. But my tiny church isn't too busy this week, so I wandered off to the beach, like I said.

This morning I woke up and promptly stepped into a twitter discussion on children in church, which I blogged about at the Tiny Church blog. I blame @CarolHoward for getting us going, but the resulting twitter spat was entirely my own fault. I always get heated on this topic, and I lack the self-discipline to put down the twitter. So after a while I left my phone in my room and went for a walk. A long walk.

I walked three miles along the ocean and into the next town over. I was aiming to go further, to a beach bistro I'd seen on the map, but there was construction on the bridge, and a NJ transit employee discouraged me from using the rail track to cross over the estuary blocking my way. So I wandered further back into town until I found a local tavern.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon, so the tavern was filled with local guys who apparently sit in the tavern for a living. I ordered my Guinness and pulled out my book, a memoir by Faye Wattelton, an African American woman who was president of Planned Parenthood for a number of years. It was after the second Guinness that the bartender (a woman) said to me, "You're not from Jersey, are you." It wasn't really a question, and I didn't really have a good answer. I mean, I'm as much from Jersey as anywhere else these days, but I'm sort of actually from California. Although I wasn't born there, but I'm not really *from* Boston. So without explaining all that I just said, "No" and went back to reading my book.

It was an Irish tavern of sorts, and hypermasculine, complete with mahogany furnishings and dark lighting. At least a dozen large screen televisions lined the walls, each with a different sporting event playing all at once. As is almost always true, nobody approached me in the bar, and I was left to read my book in peace. Five hours and five beers later, a man finally sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. The bartender (now a man) wandered over and started talking about sky diving, and how he'd managed to get his newlywed wife to skydive with him once. The man next to me started protesting that there was no reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. And as they went on with their show of figuring out whether it was more manly to jump out of a plane or stay in the plane, I made my way out the door. I'm not from around here, and still at age 38 I can't figure out how to navigate the bar scene. People tell me I should leave off with the books for starters.

I wandered back to the bed and breakfast, another three miles back. I walked along the ocean just as the sun was setting in the west, like it always does. And it might have been the Guinness, but the sunset made me laugh, because it was in the wrong place. The sun, as every Californian knows, is supposed to set over the ocean. In fact, the beautiful sunset was a frequent topic of conversation in my hometown. "Did you see the sunset? It was gorgeous tonight--like fire in the sky!"

I never hear about the sunset in New Jersey. As I was walking along, I puzzled out the reason and it's simply this: the sun sets in New Jersey on the wrong side of the sky. I kept having to look to the ocean to witness the beauty of the waves and the sand. And then I'd have to twist my head around to view the sunset. It was like two of God's glories vying for attention at once, like squabbling children trying to outdo each other. The ocean and the sunset on the west coast are like a Reese's peanut butter cup--two great tastes rolled up into one. In New Jersey I have to use separate spoons for the peanut butter and chocolate. It's a problem. But like the bartender said: I'm not from around here.

As I walked a bit further on, I got tired and sat on a bench, feeling a bit lonely for company. The shore in early spring is a beautiful place, not yet over run by the summer crowds but still warm enough to be outside. I came once in the late fall, and it was lovely then too. It is the kind of place and time I wish I shared with someone else. And as I was thinking this, I turned and looked at the plaque on the bench which read:
"In loving memory of Michael and Dolores Breen who met at the Irish riviera. Come sit and enjoy the view."
So I sat there a while and pondered the differences between this ocean and the ocean of my youth. They are not at all alike, not really. The beach in California was rather untamed, full of seaweed and tar and driftwood. You might pay for parking, but never for a beach badge, and in California nobody would stop you from taking a picnic lunch out onto the beach. I missed the silhouette of our Channel Islands and even the oil rigs far off in the distance. In California I knew to look for sea lions and seals and dolphins, which on a sunny day would play near the coast. The California coast was a rocky shore with twists and turns. Here in New Jersey the shore seems so flat, so sanitary, so straight. It has a beauty in its own right, but I'm not from around here.

And I realized, while sitting on the bench of Michael and Dolores, that part of what I was missing was the memories that went with the beach. I thought back to the times I'd sneaked off to the beach with a boy and sat out on the bluffs watching the sunset until dark and kissing until the cops came and told us to go home. Or the barbecues with the youth group. Or the day camps I helped with out there. Or just the years and years of being shaped by living in a community bordered on one side by the ocean and the other side by mountains.

I realized as I sat there that I'm not really from around here, but I'm not really from around there anymore either. I'm not sure how rooted I will get here in Jersey, although I figure I'll be here another 10 years. I was thinking about trying the Irish Riviera, since it worked so well for Dolores and Michael. I've always wanted to go to Ireland. That is, until I googled Irish Riviera and discovered that it is slang for Spring Lake, NJ, which is where I was sitting right there.

Restless and rootless, a strong sense of expectation in the wind. I have a dream that someday I'll be sitting in a bar with my book, and the very oddness of that will be intriguing to some unknown stranger, who will pull up a chair and ponder life with me. Maybe we'll sit on the bench for Dolores and Michael Breen. Who said I wasn't a romantic?


  1. I grew up in the pacific northwest and when I came to Princeton I was so disoriented by having the ocean to the east that I had to hang a map of New Jersey on my bedroom door.

    but I hadn't fallen in love before and now some of my first memories of falling in love are of sitting on the beach on LBI making out and watching the moon rise.


  2. This post was like a sunset. The kind you get in Pittsburgh, all trees and buildings.

    Thank you. This was just lovely.


  3. So lovely--I feel like I was a documentary photographer, following you through your meandering day, capturing each setting and mood. (And btw, I feel the same way about sunsets having grown up in Michigan, where the sun drops into the lake. Seeing the same lake from the Chicago side, where my husband grew up, always throws me.)

  4. This is a truly lovely post! There's so much here that I feel an ability to relate to.

  5. I grew up at the Jersey Shore and have such fond memories of dawn on the beach (after the prom, getting to work on the boardwalk, etc.). It's a pain to have to get up that early to see it but it's achingly beautiful. If you're in the Barnegat Bay area, you can watch the sun come up over the ocean at dawn and set over the bay in the evenings.


  6. WOW- The bench you were on was that of my parents. Not sure how I found this blog but Im glad I did. Spring Lake will provide you tremendous memories as it strives to stay unchanged by the world around it. My parents met there while in their teens. Both passed way too early but loved Spring Lake their whole lives. I spent the better part of 20 summers there and still share a house there with my brothers. Im almost 50 now and live in Pittsburgh. One regret I have is that my kids do not have a Sprink Lake in their lives. Best to you!-Mike Breen


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