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For years, during my time as an East Coast commuter, New Jersey fairly battered my soul. I more often than not felt like a hostage taken, forced to sweat it out in a bus that itself was hostage to the endless traffic jams and relentless delays that made up the ride to Manhattan.

To be fair, there is a restorative side to the state, at the ocean’s edge. It was that part of New Jersey that beckoned in recent weeks.

I and assorted family members and friends took up in a rambling, old beach house with heavy pine paneling that had taken on the essence, like a good marinade, of decades of ocean smells and suntan lotion.

On one living room wall was a faded, framed poster for “An Exhibition of Paintings,” April 25-May 14, 1966, at the ACA Gallery, 63 E. 57th St., New York City.

On another wall was a huge print of Albert Bierstadt’s (American 1830-1902) “The Sierra Nevada in California,” National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, along with some crude oil paintings and a trail of three carved ducks, mallards, large to small from left to right as you looked at them. I spent the days wanting to switch the two end ducks, thinking the demands of perspective would have the last duck appearing the largest.

And so the thoughts wander during vacation. Upstairs on a bookshelf was a 1946 edition of The Stephen Vincent Benét Pocket Book in which Robert Van Gelder speculates in the introduction that the author “thought about the American past as a fortunate, happily married man celebrating 50 years of wedlock by a golden honeymoon might be presumed to think about his wife. That is, he had learned to know what he liked and to value it and, as is usually the case when a relationship has worn on for a long time, it was the solid essentials that he never tired of, that always pleased him.”

It was a sweetly innocent notion that, perhaps, befit a vacation where children (four, ages 16 to 27) and parents were together in one of those increasingly rare gatherings, adding our laughter and thoughts and suntan lotion smells to the rich brine of the old house. These are, after all, the solid essentials that are the most pleasing. And would it be too far a leap, as vacation thoughts go, to understand this as a moment of grace, sacramental in nature, powerful if fleeting?

Some of us alone and others in pairs, the final day, went up for a last look at the ocean before turning, refreshed, to life’s routines.

Audio tapes of the major talks given at Women’s Ordination Worldwide (see story page 3) may be ordered from Charismatic Renewal Services, 3 Penbroke Park, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, Ireland. The price is $5.50 per tape including postage.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, July 13, 2001