By TOM MAY
Americans work more than anyone else in the industrialized world. According to ABC News, we work more than the English, French or Norwegians. We work way more than the Germans. And since the mid-90s, Americans work more than the Japanese. Reuters news agency confirms that Americans work more days and longer days, take less vacation time and retire later than any other nation.
Perhaps that is why when Americans do take a vacation, they treasure it. A survey taken by Orbitz, the online travel agency, revealed that 77 percent of Americans plan on taking a vacation this summer, with nearly half of those planning a beach destination filled with sand, sun and seashores. Forty-five percent will be traveling with the entire family, while another 33 percent will get away with just their significant other. The average family of four will spend $4,000, including travel expenses, for their getaway.
What are the things that we love about vacations — and is there some way that we can bring that back home with us? Over the next three weeks, we will visit three beaches that may give us some insights into why vacations are so appealing. Hopefully, we will also find some strategies for improving our times when we are not on vacation.
Journey with me to the southern stretch of the state of Georgia, to the renowned Golden Isles on its southern Atlantic coast. About 18 square miles in size, St. Simons Island is the largest of the handful of Isles. Originally developed by English colonists for rice and cotton plantations, her streets are lined with stately houses and willowing moss that adorns the arms of the live oak trees. Much of the island remains marsh or wooded areas. As of the last census, just more than 13,000 people call St. Simons home.
Wander toward the old village at the south end of the island, to the famed fishing pier. Shaded picnic areas, locally owned restaurants and shops, and quiet welcoming streets whisper the first quality of this vacation gem. Peaceful. Our boisterously loud lifestyles are not set aside at the Isle; they melt away, evaporating completely like the morning mist doomed by the Southern sunlight. The Island reminds us that we long for peace in life — from the demands of business and jobs, from the stresses and trials of relationships, from the chaos caused by unseen circumstances and from the spiritual uncertainties of tomorrow.
Towering over the buildings in Pier Village is the St. Simons Lighthouse, one of the nation’s most accessible guardians from the past. Only five light towers survive in the state of Georgia, a monument to a time when the coast — its residents and visitors — were protected. The beacon that cries to ships to avoid the rocks of the coast also shouts warnings about the rocks that plague our souls. We bask in the warmth of the protected time of vacation where no business can interrupt, no happenstance can heckle, no incident can intrude. Is it any wonder that we long for a peace that passes even our own understanding?
The stroll near the beach at St. Simons speaks to peace and protection, but it also connects us with the past. In addition to the old lighthouse, St. Simons is the home of one of Georgia’s oldest churches. Both John and Charles Wesley performed missionary work on the Isle, the former serving as the official Anglican minister of the colony. On the streets of this isle, the present coincides with the past rather than battling it.
We spend much of life with the present being dictated by the future. Tomorrow’s vision mandates the requirements of today’s bottom line. We consistently toss aside the present because the future promises more technology, more ease of living, more satisfaction, more wealth. Tomorrow holds such promise that it is not just that we are discontent with the present, it is almost inevitable that we do not even want a connection with the past.
As we prepare to pack and leave the rocky beach of the Island of St. Simons, secretly tuck these three souvenirs into your suitcase. Take home the memento of peace, gleaned in spite of the circumstances of life. Stow away the relic of protection. Use it to place buoys around life’s desperate waters, dictating the path your ship will sail. Wrap carefully the delicate gift of the past, allowing it to coincide with your present, providing your todays with purpose, stability and fulfillment.
Make every day a walk along the beach.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.