Finding Meaning

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Our Greatest Day

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

Biggest day of the year for Laguna’s beaches? The Fourth of July.  No doubt about it.

Hitting the beach on July 4 goes back to the 1880s when visitors came by horse and carriage.  A day’s travel was about 20 miles, so they came from El Toro and Santa Ana, plus the local ranchos.  The county paved the dirt trail through Laguna Canyon in 1915, extending our day-visitor perimeter to Anaheim and Riverside if you had one of those Detroit-made autos.

When the Coast Highway reached Laguna in 1926, people came from Los Angeles, including Hollywood motion picture people. One year, there was such a surge of visitors that the town literally ran out of food.  Beginning in 1940 the Pasadena Freeway extended the circle beyond Los Angeles.

This Fourth of July our eldest son and family will fly here from Washington D.C., arriving in time to hit the beach, eat some barbecue, and catch the fireworks.

What’s it all about?  We’re celebrating the world’s greatest experiment—democracy.  It started 242 years ago when 56 politicians took a bold stand at great personal danger.  Imagine that.  The Continental Congress asked Thomas Jefferson to compose a suitable statement, though they did a little editing.  Jefferson made his points in a most singular sentence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Pretty good writing, though I would prefer “pursuit of Meaning.”

The Declaration didn’t start the Revolutionary War—the Battles of Lexington and Concord did that the year before, on April 19, 1775, followed by the Battle of Bunker Hill a bit later.  We were rebelling, but we hadn’t officially declared it.  An incentive for the Declaration was the ominous arrival of a large British fleet off the New York coast.  Britain was the reigning sea power but this new nation arising would not be bullied.

The founders of our nation had tasted freedom in this new land and it transformed them.  A new idea boldly confronted old-world rulers:  Liberty, once experienced, is so meaningful people would risk their lives for it.  The clout of government would never be the same.

There was, however, a grave problem with the Declaration’s claims: slavery.  Ships had been bringing slaves since 1684 and forced labor was ingrained, like a cancer, in the economy.  On another Fourth of July, in 1863, all that began to unravel with the close of a great battle at Gettysburg, and Grant’s victory at Vicksburg to open the Mississippi River to Union control.  It’s a testament to the influence of freedom that 155 years later the harm done by slavery is still with us.

So, have a great Fourth of July.  Hit the beach, eat some barbeque, enjoy the fireworks. And when the day is done, square up your shoulders and resolve to be worthy of our great gift—the freedom to make life meaningful.  A lot of good people gave their lives so we could.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  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.



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