New ‘Old’ Friends?
The Beautiful Wife abhors violence. But she also loves a TV show full of murder and mayhem. It’s called “Blue Bloods” and follows a New York police family. What hooks her is that each show features the four generations gathering for a family dinner. They begin with grace, discuss the troubles of the day, dish wisdom from their shared values, and lift each other up. In a recent show, old friends were asking police for favors that crossed the line of propriety. So, the burdens friends can create was their table topic. The great-grandfather made a wise observation: “If you want your friends to be perfect, you won’t have any.” And then, “You can’t just find another ‘old’ friend.” Which leads to a story.
This column receives encouraging comments that inspire me. But I did get one complaint, that the column mainly talks about religion. It’s a fair observation. Religion speaks to the central question of life, “Why are we here?” And it speaks to the consequent question, “What next?” Religion, for the believer, provides purpose that invites meaning.
But our reader is reminding that not everyone believes. I think this a good thing—churches can learn from the questions of non-believers. So can I. The non-believer’s journey to meaning, it seems, is less defined, more filled with choices. This brings to mind a poem about choice that begins: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . ..” Robert Frost’s poem is widely loved, yet hard to understand. You’ll recall the traveler, standing at a fork, chose the path “less traveled by.” Most can embrace that—don’t we like to see ourselves as appropriately non-conventional? But Frost then complicates the choice by inferring the two trails were in truth equally travelled when he adds: “[T]he passing there, Had worn them really about the same.” Frost was a tricky guy, masking questions as answers. The message of “The Road Not Taken” may be the mystery of agency—our freedom to choose—that you never know what awaited on that other path. And you may one day wonder, as Frost hints: “I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence . . .”
So, getting back to my non-religious reader, I invited him to share the sources of meaning in his journey. After a time, he opened his heart. As a boy he attended Sunday school in a local church, but was turned off by the conflict among churches and the idea that hell awaited the nonbeliever. Who could blame him? Given two paths, he forsook religion. The years passed. After his two children grew up and left home, his life lacked meaning. He became the playground recess supervisor for an elementary school—nine recesses a day for 15 years. I calculate that at 24,300 installments on “treating children as he hoped his kids would have been treated.” Meaning oozes from such service.
He finds meaning in relationships: From a son who says “Love ya,” each time they part. From a daughter who blessed him with the only children who call him, “Gramps.” From the memory of a mom, who the day before she passed expressed thanks for how he treated her and told him how much she loved him. Or just conversing with a friend. Like many, he finds meaning in nature, in the ocean and walking our hills. And there are times when the thought arises, even said aloud, “This is Heaven.” He says it’s all the heaven he expects. I think he can count on more, much more. But that’s just my belief.
I invited him to coffee. He countered with a walk on Main Beach. Turns out that neither of us actually drink coffee. I could use a new ‘old’ friend.
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.” His email: [email protected]
Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):
Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.
Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.
Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.
First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.
ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.
Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.
Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.
Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.
United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.
St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.
St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8 & 10:30 a.m.
Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.