A news junkie hits the beach

I know it’s not just me.

More and more people are telling me that they just can’t take the news anymore. Like me, they find it overwhelmingly depressing. It raises our blood pressure. It leaves us discontented. It makes us feel hopeless.

A recent German study of news coverage concluded that news organizations are more likely to repeat or pass along negative news than positive news. They must be doing this because it attracts an audience, but more than a few of us seem to be saying “enough is enough.” The chronicle of disasters, offenses, tragedies, outrages and impending crises is sapping our spirits. The occasional heartwarming anecdote only serves to make the rest of the news even darker.

On the face of it, it seems almost masochistic to keep going back to the gloomy news well day after day. Yet with smartphone in hand and 24/7 cable, it feels irresponsible not to. Until we stop.

In my case, my decision to fast from daily morbid chronicles and "breaking news" was inspired by a family vacation and my children. Seeing something that maybe I wasn’t, they all requested that I throttle back from the newspapers and radio and TV that were part of my daily news consumption. Not to mention my day job! I stopped social media too, since much of that is regurgitation of, or commentary on, various news events, or venomous bile masquerading as commentary.

I confess it was a bit hard at first, and I fell off the wagon a few times, sneaking a peek at my smartphone in the bathroom or checking in with Twitter. Pitiful, I know. But for the most part, I stuck to my mid-summer Lenten resolve.

And my reward for this sacrifice from headlines was some delightfully focused time with my kids and assorted significant others. I traded prose for poetry, and what a treat it was!

We had agreed to plant ourselves on a beach — an unusually stationary vacation plan for us. Every day we trotted down to the sand, tried to bodysurf some limp Atlantic Ocean waves, read books and played games. We all took turns cooking meals — one of the perks of having grown children — and we rediscovered a great blessing: How much we delighted in being together.

What we most enjoyed, I think, was doing nothing that would typically be classified as productive.

Europeans seem to get this. They generally have more vacation time than Americans, and they use it all, unlike us workaholic Yankees. We Americans act as if we are all indispensable or are afraid to confirm that we are not.

Europeans see vacations not as a luxury but as a right. I wonder if we see vacations as a temptation.

I’m just as American as the next guy, but this summer, doing nothing more ambitious than building a sandcastle seemed just about perfect. Watching an osprey circle overhead, catching the silvery flash of mullets leaping out of the water in a salt marsh, tracking a crab scuttling across hot sand or just listening to the rhythmic beat of the waves — it was all soul restoring.

The news never stopped, of course. Nor did the emails. Instead of digging sandcastles, now I’m digging out.

But I am grateful for the blessings of family, and I am trying to hold on to one important lesson I learned this summer. We spend so much time laboring and worrying, calculating and maneuvering that we can forget to just listen. Watch. Savor. And give thanks.

Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected]