Finding Meaning

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How Far We’ve Come

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

Who doesn’t love books?  I do. There’s meaning in books.  Of the things that make our town special, one is Laguna Beach Books.  Thanks to proprietor Jane Hanauer, it’s Orange County’s only independent book store.  So, when I heard Jordan Peterson—the politically incorrect psychology professor gone viral—had a book out I hustled down to Laguna Books.  I got the next-to-last copy of “12 Rules for Life.”

Peterson’s opus offers this deep thought: “Meaning signifies that you are in the right place, at the right time, properly balanced between order and chaos, where everything lines up as best it can at that moment.”

“Meaning,” he infers, is a balancing act.  Peterson could have been reading this column, for his Rule #7 says, “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).” Didn’t Jesus say this in the Sermon on the Mount, that the broad (easy) way leads to destruction, but the strait and narrow path gives life?

Last week marked a milestone; the first 10 columns of “Finding Meaning.” We’ve been climbing a big mountain together.  When climbing, it can be mentally exhausting to look up in the distance and see how far you still have to go.  It can make you want to quit, the expedient decision. In these moments it’s better to look back, to appreciate how far you’ve come.  This makes the distant peak seem doable.  So, let’s take a look back.

The first column called up lessons on meaning that Victor Frankl learned in the cruelty of Auschwitz. When every human comfort had been taken, he found meaning in his last remaining power, the right to determine his attitude.  In the darkest suffering, the memory of his wife brought light: “I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look.  Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the [rising] sun . . .”  For Frankl, the value of meaning was set by the terrible price he paid.  His gift to us was to share this for the price of a book.

Because the column debuted on Groundhog Day, we turned to that transcendent movie of the same name.  Bill Murray, you’ll recall, played an egotistical TV weatherman sent, against his wishes, to report the event from tiny Punxsutawney, Pa.  Murray’s character, in his dark and vile mood, ruined the day for all.  In return, the gods doomed him to remain in the day.  It was as if a single day was such a precious gift that Murray would have to practice this wasted one until he had lived it perfectly.  It took many, many tries.  He sought, at first, uninhibited pleasure for himself.  It didn’t satisfy; his depression deepened.  With painful repetition, he learns that meaning, even redemption, can come from self-improvement and service to others.  In this process, by taking himself out of the equation, he finds moments of meaning and true happiness.  At last he gets it right, escapes the day, and wins over the lovely Andie McDowell.  It’s my favorite movie.

In “Finding Meaning,” we’ve also studied Lent and Passover, American exceptionalism, the merits of fasting, Billy Graham’s last message, family history, and the service of our own Rev. Jerry Tankersley.  It’s been quite a journey, this search for meaning.  How could we not carry on?

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip, and is the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email:  [email protected]



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