This Much I’ve Learned is True … Meaning by Itself Means Nothing

Originally published June 17, 2015

Dedicated in memory to my father, Sherwood S. (Butch) Kelley, Jr.:
August 25, 1936 – May 24, 2015.

What does it all mean? Is there a reason for it all?

I’ll begin with the mundane, as in an ordinary day …

Only One Meaning - for blog
Erich Fromm, 1900 – 1980: German social psychologist,            psychoanalyst, humanistic philosopher

Sometimes I ask myself – no, I actually berate myself about it (quite often in fact) – “Why am I on Facebook when I could be/should be doing something else?!” Something else other than blithely skipping through the Home page, Liking and Commenting and Sharing (willy nilly, no less) … Until – oh my, would you look at the time! – another morning wasted* (asterisk-ed for a reason … to be explained (TBE)).

I tell myself that I’m only going to peek in for an hour, maybe an hour and a half (no more than two, okay?) while I have coffee with my Friends and wake up.

  • There are many lovely, proud, and even silly posts of families;
  • A lot of cartoonish stuff about best friends, the differences between the sexes, and idiots* (TBE);
  • Super yummy-looking food presentations – the very best ones appearing to be obscenely rich in cream, butter, and other fats (lingering over those is akin to virtual consumption … No calories!);
  • Useful how-to’s about health, gardening, home repair, you-name-it;
  • Frequent political posts – some beneficially thought-provoking, some just angry rants;
  • Noteworthy homages to servicemen and women;
  • And, not-to-be-missed videos featuring cats, cats, dogs, birds, cats, cats, elephants, wolves, puppies, kittens and other baby animals (such as baby goats … in pajamas … Hey, why not?), cats, cats, some really weird-looking-so-ugly-they’re-cute creatures, cats, and … cats who practice talking a bird’s language to befriend them (wink-wink). (Go ahead, theorize all you want about what cats’ chirping means … I have two cats; I know what those cunning little buggers are capable of. And, I love them anyway.)

But … Wait! Wait! I can’t possibly leave MY Facebook neighborhood before reading HuffPostThe New York TimesWashington Post, and/or The Atlantic articles, because they – in the name of higher learning – can feed my mind and make me feel less guilty about the time I’m logged on.

And, sprinkled throughout — like fairy dust, only better — are the inspirational posts, including prayer requests and memorials; these nourish and grow my soul, and – I pray to God – keep me grounded reaching UP as well as searching inward for answers. (Okay, “grounded” is good too, so scratch that “scratch.”)

Again, I ask: What does it all mean? Is there a reason for it all?

“It all” not being Facebook, of course. But, I think you knew that.

This may come as a surprise, but I was a serious child — serious in the sense that I spent a lot of time in my head, wondering what the chaos that I lived in meant. At the same time, I was going to Catholic grade school and spending a good chunk of time in the small church that was at one end of the small-ish two-story, yellow-brick building that was dwarfed by the large asphalt parking lot, meant for Sunday church-goers and the weekly faithful bingo crowd. Mary Help of Christians was my haven. (Excuse me while I pause here to reflect on the similarities between “haven” and “heaven” and Google for their origins. … Interesting.)

And so, I’ve picked through life — including the Spiritual — like this … observing, absorbing, ruminating, meandering (I like to imagine peripatetically, as a student of Aristotle, pausing only to wonder and pose even more questions). I meandered through high school — mostly having fun with friends — as any self-respecting adolescent would — while getting good grades, because it pleased my teachers and me, and because that was the kind of peer pressure I gave in to. (The good grades also helped to “unground” me at home when I got into trouble.) Afterwards, I opted for college for the same reason, because all my friends were going, and I didn’t want to be left behind.

Perhaps my father — who had become a single parent after my mother left — expected me to go. I don’t know; I wish I had asked him. He hadn’t gone to college, but he had trained in the nascent computer science field, and he was making a living for himself and his four children as a programmer/analyst for the government. I thought about journalism because I liked asking questions, and it seemed I had a talent for writing.

Instead, I meandered into the English department and became a critical reader … To this day, I read slowly as I analyze punctuation, grammar, word choice, sentence structure, and rhythm while reading between the lines for meaning. This training (compounded by my basic A-D-D state of mind) can frustrate the hell outta me, because I can’t just ignore all those pesky details and breeze through whatever I’m reading just for pure pleasure.

Meaning: It both drives and haunts me — energizes and paralyzes me. Three years ago, I created this blog searching for the holy grail — truth and meaning — by mainly researching the Internet, a vast and deep ocean of information and misinformation. Choppy waters out there, my friends (and, the Internet is but a particle of this thing called Life) … I’m still learning to navigate it all, to separate Le Fata Morgana from certainty. What often amazes me, when it’s all said and done, is the awesome truth I find in the fairly tranquil “Bay of Facebook.”

Such as this Share by a Friend earlier this month, when the grief of my father’s death was raw: Why Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason. This post about suffering for its own sake — without being distracted by the “whys” (i.e. Why is this happening to me? Why is God making me suffer?) — resonated deeply with several Friends, and there was much thoughtful discussion, not just a bunch of Likes.

As for my takeaway, from the author: I prefer to understand God as One who bleeds along with us; Who sits with us in our agony and weeps, not causing us our distress but providing a steady, holy presence in it. … In this way, I believe in suffering as a sacred space; one where we get to choose. It’s not a supernatural cause-and-effect experiment from the sky, specifically designed to do something to us or in us, but it is a time and place where we can respond and as we do, we are altered. … No I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe there is meaning in how we respond to all things that happen to us, even when they are not at all good things. … Be encouraged as you suffer and choose. 

And so, my time on Facebook was not wasted* (TBE as promised) because I’ve chosen to create this post about what I’ve learned so far from my father’s life and death. Oh, I won’t stop meandering, ruminating, and asking questions … because that is my way, my process of living. But, this much I know I’ve learned from my father: not to spend too much time, if any, judging others’ way of living/journeying. Not to spend too much time, if any, calling someone an idiot* for their choices (TBE as promised) because it’s our choices that ultimately matter, and knowing ourselves and understanding our choices is ultimately more important.

Sherwood S. Kelley, Jr. _ photo for Fairborn paper obit
My father, Sherwood S. (Butch) Kelley, Jr.

Although, sometimes I’m not 100% that was what he believed, because he was a quiet man who didn’t spend a lot of time giving his opinions; he knew who he was, what he liked and didn’t like, and that was enough for him, and would have to be enough for us too. He seemed to feel the same way about the choices his children made … that they were ours to make and live with.

Trust me, his way could frustrate me (and, I’m sure I frustrated him). How he chose to live his last week frustrated — pained — me. The week before had been a good week for him; although bed-ridden and on oxygen 24/7, he was comfortable and in good spirits, and in his own home. His brother and wife along with a favorite cousin had visited from Cincinnati; two close friends from AA and a childhood friend had spent a day with him.

Then, all four of his children were there with him: my brother, from Colorado; me, from Minnesota; and, my sisters — one, his “roomie” and caretaker during his last three months — and the youngest who lived nearby. The night before my brother returned to Denver, all of us were gathered in his bedroom rooting for his baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds, to rally and beat the San Francisco Giants. (The Big Red Machine lost, but we had some good laughs anyway.)

That week — as happy as he was — took a lot out of him because day-by-day he grew more depressed, ate less, slept more, struggled for breath more when he was awake, and needed more pain medication in the early morning hours (perhaps the adenocarcinoma he had been diagnosed with late April was metastasizing into his bones). But, he rallied himself because he had plans to keep and people to say farewell to: A group of his oldest, dearest friends were coming to his home on Thursday for “Dessert with Butch” after their monthly lunch (this included my mother and her husband, who drove up from Georgia); and, three grandchildren were arriving from Virginia, California, and Colorado on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

His drugs for his last weeks had been his choice and were approved by his doctors and hospice: a regimen of pain pills, steroids, pep pills, and anti-anxiety medications. The morphine would be administered closer to the end … which came much sooner than we expected. Early morning of the day he died (Sunday), he may have had a stroke; he had a breathing mask but struggled for air nearly all day, and he didn’t appear to “be all there,” as he had just the day before. This was scary and agonizing to watch, but we did — we waited it out with him; his breathing became steadier and more peaceful … then shallower and shallower, until he passed.

Why did this frustrate me? Because afterwards — as grateful as I was for how peaceful his death was, in his home, surrounded by his family — I was sad for him, feeling that he had struggled longer than necessary to live that last week. But, that was beside the point.

The reason(s) why he suffered and/or chose to suffer are beside the point of it all. For, he lived the way he wanted to, and he was happy with his life. That comforts me. Also, I know — as I held my father’s hand in his last minutes and prayed that he would die peacefully — that God was there “bleeding along with us … in that sacred space.” Not looking for meaning/a reason frees me to live, and I choose to believe that would please my father very much.

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