Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Aloha, Semper Fi, Cheers

Sometimes inspiration happens in an accidental way. At one Laguna church the Sunday speakers, at the last moment, weren’t available. What to do? A father and son, Dave and Miki Bartholomew, lay volunteers, agreed to speak. The son Miki spoke of his childhood dream to be a Laguna Beach lifeguard, like his older cousin Chris Brown. Seeing Brown in the lifeguard jeep, with lights, sirens and rescue gear, seemed the coolest thing. Miki did the junior lifeguard program and when old enough turned out for the big test, the 1,000-yard swim from Main Beach to the buoy, on to Bird Rock, and back to the buoy, in under 20 minutes.

This test came on a cold, foggy, wintery day with the water temperature close to 50 degrees. Wind blew waves into white caps. When Miki hit the water, it took his breath away, making it hard to breathe. His head hurt so much he kept it out of the water, paddling doggie style. It took 16 minutes to get to Bird Rock, way too long. Miki, whimpering and shivering uncontrollably, was defeated. But at the moment of quitting, lifeguard Mike McGill pulled alongside on his paddle board. When Miki asked for a ride to shore, McGill declared, “You’re not giving up! Put your head down and swim!” McGill then cheered Miki on until he reached the beach. His time was over 21 minutes, too slow. Fortunately, so few qualified there was a second chance, but only if you had finished. Miki later qualified and achieved his lifeguard dream, thanks to those cheers.

Dave Bartholomew, Miki’s dad, is a retired Marine Corps officer, a friendly guy who laughingly reminds he’s “a trained killer.” In his annual Marine review, he once got high praise, “His men will follow him anywhere,” tempered with, “But mostly out of curiosity.” It’s true, he’s an original. He met his wife Nadine when she was a college girl waitressing in Hawaii. Nadine made an impression, Dave made his campaign, they married, had a big family, and retired in Laguna. Here, Dave began the march from good Marine to disciple of Christ—a late start on a lifetime’s journey.

About a year ago, Dave was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Not quite ready to face his mortality, he sought every available treatment. His hair is gone, he’s skin and bones, needs a walker and helping hands to get around. Struggling to the pulpit, Dave remembered his baptism, the people who had cheered him along the way, the love given and received. He spoke of the spirit of “Aloha” and “Semper Fi,” and acknowledged he had his final “orders.” The latter being a military term for your next service assignment but these weren’t from the Marine Corps—a higher authority was calling. Dave let loose of his walker, straightened up with an effort, and saluted the congregation. Aloha, Semper Fi. Thanks for your cheers along the disciple’s path. You helped me finish. We’ll meet again. It seemed the perfect good-bye. There’s meaning in that.

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]

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