Lifeguard or Doctor?
To a healthy and happy Summer of ’20 …
The summer before my father began medical school — 80 years ago — he was a lifeguard at a New York City beach. Among his fellow guarding buddies were several careerists. These guys followed the sun, dad said, guarding full time — traveling the annual New York-Florida circuit for guarding work.
And the more they talked about that existence, my dad told me, the more it appealed to him. As the summer of 1940 drew to a close he got it into his head that he would like to join them and considered putting off his medical studies for a while.
All before he told his mother. A determined and demanding lady, she quickly knocked the idea out of his head. But dad continued summer guarding all through medical school.
He guarded at Jacob Riis Park in Queens, NY and at Jones Beach on Long Island. Both state parks were popular bathing spots — creations of “Master-Builder” Robert Moses . My dad said he had more than a few “saves” during his lifeguard career. Seems like the guy was always saving lives.
My father was a water guy. A champion swimmer and diver in college, he started guarding while in college. He also loved to sail. And the first chance he got, he moved his family from the city to the shore and stayed there for 50-plus years.
Whenever he could break away from his busy medical practice, he went to the beach. And he would frequently recommend to his patients the therapeutic properties of swimming. One of his “Rules for Stress Busting” was to “take brief vacations”— time at the beach being a perfect example.
All of his 8 children became “beach bums.” But it was my older sister, a busy sales person, who seemed to sum up a day at the beach the best. “You experience a peace and wonder there,” she explained to me. “I just bring my beach chair, a book, or music and hit the sand. You get lost in time. It’s the only place where I don’t feel guilty relaxing.”
It looks like the doctor’s daughter was right. A British study a while back found that “a seaside environment can reduce stress and encourage physical activity.”
A very different kind of summer has arrived and yet I’m always grateful to be near the beach.