Finding Meaning


Meaning in Relationships

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

Do you remember Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” radio show, with the news report from Lake Wobegon? In fictional Lake Wobegon, the women were strong, the men good looking, and the children all above average. There’s a plethora of such towns scattered across America, most of them real. Think of Laguna Beach back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, when anyone could afford to live here. I’m writing from such a town, Midway, Utah, just over the mountain from better-known Park City.

It’s been a quiet week in Midway. Last weekend, the Beautiful Wife and I watched our neighbor clean the tail of his horse. The town is small but plenty cosmopolitan. The June plein air art affair drew artists from all over the west. Cowboys in their pickup trucks then flocked to the county fair and rodeo, which was topped off by the demolition derby. Next week the town comes together to put on Swiss Days, claimed by some to be the nation’s biggest two-day craft show.  There’s also a sheepdog competition over in Soldier Hollow, which is more fun for the dogs than the sheep. There’s plenty going on in the valley, but my favorite is October’s cowboy poetry and western music event.

Cowboy poetry is full of earthy humor about the foibles of western life. If you listen carefully though, you can catch the spiritual meaning of the cowboy culture. Musicians will play my favorite western song, “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” In the song, a rider who has stopped on a ridge to rest sees a vision of cowboys desperately racing across the endless sky, trying to stop a stampede of the devil’s herd. I find meaning in the closing line directed at our resting rider: “If you wanna save your soul from hell a-riding on our range, then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride.” It’s the cowboy version of the call to repentance.

Reading the news these days, there’s plenty of folks who need to change their ways. A lack of faithfulness to those they pledged to love is a common failing. In contrast, I’d like to tell a story about the BW’s Cousin Gene. He’s a tough old guy with the bark still on, given to speaking bluntly. He once told me he wouldn’t give his backyard for all of California. It caused me to look over his backyard fence to see what was so special. But he has a soft side, too. His lifelong best friend was Leo, another of the BW’s Midway cousins.

Leo was the last of the cattlemen to still drive his herd through town on the way to summer pasture. He died the way he lived, out working on his land. He hadn’t been able to mount a horse for a few years, so he was riding his tractor when he passed. Gene sang at Leo’s funeral. I didn’t know he could sing, but Gene sang as sweetly as a bird in the forest. A year or so ago his wife, one of those strong women common to such towns, passed away from cancer. Gene was devastated by her death. These days he takes his guitar to visit his wife’s grave at the local cemetery. He goes every evening and he plays and sings to her. Just like he did, I suppose, long ago when they were young and courting.

When each of us passes from this life, we’ll leave our stuff behind. You can’t take it with you. But we do take our relationships. We ought to be faithful to those we love—it gives meaning to our lives.


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.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

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.

Salt Chrch, 8681 N. Coast Hwy, 10:00 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., 9:30 a.m. (summer schedule)

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.


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