About Me

Pearl City, HI, United States

Friday, September 11, 2020

9/11: What Have We Learned?

Flight 93 National Memorial
Image © 2011
by Ralph F. Couey

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

I won't bore you by telling you where I was and what I was doing when the news came through.  I won't expend the words recounting the events of that dark day.  I won't even try to articulate how that day impacted that circle of friends and acquaintances that surrounded me at that time.  But as we are upon the 19th anniversary of September 11, 2001, there are some things that need to occupy our thoughts.

It's hard to believe the speed at which the intervening time has seemingly passed, and the miles we have traveled as a country since then.  Times have certainly changed.  The world is an entirely different place.  But we are still deeply, irredeemably divided, standing on either side of a political and social chasm that widens noticeably each day.  The lesson about unity which was so harshly taught that day has been swept aside by a seeming competition as to who can hate more intensely.  In 2011, it took an attack; a disaster unprecedented in our history to drop the walls of separation, at least for a time.  I think if an attack of that magnitude happened again today, we might come completely apart in the spasm of blame which would surely follow.

So, the question begs:  What have we learned?

The passage of years has largely healed the pain of the wound America suffered that day.  There will be ceremonies of remembrance and commemoration in Manhattan, Arlington, and outside of Shanksville.  There will be smaller events scattered across the country.  The media will cover the events locally, but I haven't heard if the Big Five will carry them nationally in their entirety.  I doubt that most Americans will consider it must-see TV.

In a sense, this reduced awareness is a sign that America is healing.  In another sense, it is a sign that what has been a painful memory to many is about to become history for all.

The United States has been much better fighting terrorism.  There have been attacks through the years, but generally speaking, they have been committed by so-called lone wolves.  There have been attempts at major attacks, but were nipped in the bud by the excellent work of the Intelligence Community and law enforcement.  Because of that, the threat has fallen from the top of most of our lists.  In conversations, the subject is rarely discussed, if at all.  Today, the Pandemic has our full attention, terrorism by microorganism.  

For me, 9/11 will always be a day of somber reflection.  The frustration of being caught completely off-guard is a burr that has never budged from my personal saddle.  The enormous loss of life that day, in three widely separated locations, mainly people whose only crime was going to work that day.  The deaths that really rocked the nation were those of the firefighters and police officers who went into the danger while others went the other direction.  343 firefighters and 50 police officers died that day.  One of the enduring images was this: 

Photo by John Labriola

Firefighter Mike Kehoe was captured as he trudged up the endless stairs towards the fire and death, still hundreds of feet above.  Kehoe actually survived, as he and his colleagues were recalled by the FDNY after the first tower collapsed, and after rendering assistance on the ground floor, was able to leave the building moments before it collapsed.  What I see is a man already showing the strain of the climb, encumbered by about a hundred pounds of gear.  The sweat-stained shirts of those descending illustrate the tough conditions that existed within that stairwell, people who weren't so encumbered.  It illustrates to me the dedication and commitment that every firefighter must have, and the courage to knowingly and unhesitatingly go into danger.  There were many others who made that ascent that day who never left the tower.  We remember them every 9/11, although they deserve our thanks every day.

Imagine, if you will, earlier that morning.  You and your spouse are scurrying around the house like any other morning.  Getting the kids up, fed, packed, and off to school.  The normal kind of normal interactions -- reminders of appointments, kid's games, plans for the weekend -- the kind of things we say to each other when we are assured that tomorrow will come, and be largely unchanged from today.  Suddenly, before the workday as even properly started, the news begins to come through.  Televisions and radios are turned on, and viewers see the huge gash in the side of the tower from which oily, black smoke is emitting.  Speculation about what kind of plane could hit a building on a day with such sparkling clear skies.  Maybe there were those who suddenly realized that a loved one, perhaps that most important loved one, was somewhere inside that flaming hell.  The subsequent events -- the second plane strike, the collapse of the first, then the second towers, the news that the Pentagon had been struck, and another plane had crashed in rural Pennsylvania -- all feeding the shocking sense of unreality.

Then the return home.  Waiting desperately, painfully for word -- any word -- that the person for whom your entire world revolves will ever come home again.  The pain when reality struck, and the task of telling small children why a parent was gone forever.

One of the most important lessons of that day for me was the importance of recognizing how temporary and fragile human life can be, and how a life can be taken from us in an event the enormity of which steals the pain of each individual life.  It doesn't take a major disaster for that kind of impact.  People die every day in accidents, from illness, crime, and now, a Pandemic.  How many of us, in the wake of such loss, begged for (as the song said) one more moment.

9/11, and my own very personal experience with death, taught me that every day is precious.  Every person is precious.  No more do I wait to tell people how much they mean to me.  I cherish my friendships, and those whom I love.  I've learned to never wait until tomorrow.  Because tomorrow may never come.

Life has a way of becoming mundane and routine.  We are so caught up in the "have-to-dos" and "gotta-be-theres" that crowd our schedule that we become blind to the priceless things that happen every day.  A glimpse of nature's matchless beauty; sharing friendship; the enduring cuteness of a child, even a teenager; and that smile from across the room from the love of our life, but not just any smile.  That special one.  The one they save only for us.

These are things we can lose, that can be ripped away from us in a moment.  If there was something I could tell everyone to remember on this 19th year after 9/11, it would be to spend today telling people how special and important they are.  To think about how your life would change if they somehow vanished.  We don't spend enough time doing this.  So, today, take the time.

Star Trek's Captain Picard once said, "Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives.  But I rather believe that time is a companion, who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again.  Seize the time...live now! Make "now" always the most precious time.  Because "now" will never come again." 

In whatever context you choose, make "now" the most important moment of each day.  Never allow it to slide by without notice.  

And while we are all still here together, love one another.  Now.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020


Autumn in the Shenandoah
Image © 2015 by Ralph F. Couey

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

For as long as I can remember, I have looked forward to the coming of autumn.  Part of that arose from living in Missouri and after enduring the heat and humidity of summer, how wonderful was the arrival of much cooler and drier air.  But always the best experience was the turning of the leaves.

For about three weeks, the world became a bright cacophony of color as the trees turned from green to spectacular reds and golds.  As the leaves began to fall, there came that remarkable smell that arose from the ground as I walked through the forest, kicking up the leaves.  Fall was always a time when my spirits rose and joy returned.  One strong memory lives, a day when I took my motorcycle and rode along western Pennsylvania's twisty, windy roads dappled in sunlight and leaves.  Towards evening, the light from the setting sun slanted through the trees and made the already vivid colors even more spectacular.  I remember the cool, scented air flowing past as I negotiated the tight curves.  It was one of those singular moments when I felt amazingly intensively alive.

Along with the change of seasons came the change of wardrobe.  Shorts and t-shirts were packed away to be replaced by jeans and sweaters.  I loved wearing a sweater while being outside in autumn.  The nights grew chillier until the first frost.  Those mornings saw the early sunlight illuminating that silvery patina on the grass.  There was a snap to the air that pulled energy from deep inside and planted a smile on my face.  The best time was in late October when the leaves were at peak.  For about two glorious weeks, the world became beautiful and exciting.  Of course, that never lasted as long as I would have liked.  Once the leaves lost their colors and dropped to the ground, we had a few weeks where the world became shrouded in a kind of noir, consumed in brown and black.  Then came that interminable wait until the snow began to fly, covering the dead landscape with a blanket of white lit by jewel-like ice crystals by the sheer brilliance of the winter sunlight.

When we lived in Virginia, I made an annual pilgrimage to Shenandoah National Park.  Along Skyline Drive, the trees were brilliant in their colors.  I made frequent stops at the pullouts along the road where I could see hundreds of square miles of autumn foliage laid out at my feet.  Some things in life get old after awhile.  That view never did.  And when I look through my collection of my very amateur photography, it still never gets old.

Contrary to what you might have heard, there are seasons here in Hawai'i.  Basically two, this summer and last summer.  Winter here is not all that different, perhaps a bit more rain.  But the temperatures in January are only about six degrees lower on average than during summer.  For kama'aina's, that's a pretty significant difference.  But for someone like me who grew up on the mainland, its barely noticeable.  In my life, there were four seasons, one hot, one cold, and two in between that defined the passage of the days.  I miss seasons.  I miss the spring when wildflowers bloomed along the Appalachian Trail, where I followed a dirt path lined with the gentle blue of bluebells.  I remember how life returned to the forest, the sound of birdsong after months of winter silence.  Animals were about and feeding, from the humble field mouse to the hungry and grouchy black bears.  Summer brought the heat, yes.  But in the evening, a chorus of crickets and tree frogs, punctuated by the occasional hooting of an owl.  To me, it was a song, one that was taught to me as a young child, and even today opens the floodgates to memories long dormant.  

Winter was snow.  And cold.  And ice storms.  As I grew older, I spent less time on a sled and more time behind the wheel, it became less fun.  But that first real snowfall, the flakes floating out of a slate-gray sky and gradually covering the ground was still a beautiful thing. 

But Autumn will always be my favorite, a time where my best recollections lie waiting to be picked up, felt, and savored once again.

I remember one day I was jogging through Vienna, Virginia.  The leaves had peaked and were beginning to drop.  Suddenly, I realized that it was November 1st, and October, my favorite month, was gone for another year.  I felt cheated, that those 31 days had flown by without my being able to really enjoy them, or even to seemingly draw an appreciative breath.  It was in that moment that I realized how precious each day was, and how important it was to grasp the memories as they happened, and store them away carefully in that beautiful treasure chest that is the human heart.  Time steals those days, for once they are past, they can never be brought back.  The future is still coming, but in between what came before, and what will come soon is that time of opportunity and awareness we call "now."  

That is the gift that must never be squandered.   

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The Kansas City Chiefs and the Winds of Change


VectorStock #1462503

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

The winds of change blow wildly these days, particularly where ethnic symbology exists.  Sports teams who have used Native American symbols and names, some for more than a century, are just now becoming sensitive to how those portrayals are perceived by those who hold that real life heritage.  The Washington DC football team has shed its controversial "Redskins" moniker, but as a replacement is still being debated, will be known this year as...the Washington Football Team.  Practical, if not particularly inspirational.  The Cleveland Indians have stated that they will be considering a change to another name as soon as one is nominated that everybody can agree upon.  Other teams are feeling the pressure as well.  

The Kansas City Chiefs were not named after Native Americans, but rather a former mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was "Chief."  But the symbology adopted by the team after their move from Dallas to KC has reflected the Indian motif.  The association went beyond the helmet symbol, the touchdown flag, and the stadium name to include a horse named "Warpaint," who galloped around the field after every touchdown, rode by a team employee wearing a ceremonial headdress.  Fans as well chose costumes such as the headdress, painted faces, and one Arrowhead legend known as "Arrow Man," who showed up at games wearing the opponent's jersey liberally perforated by arrows.  But as cultural awareness has started to mature, even this team is looking at alternatives.

One of the choices, the most popular, as I'm given to understand, would be the Kansas City Fire Chiefs.  Firefighters are some of the most universally loved public servants in America, but this new association dates back to a tragedy that happened almost 32 years ago.

In the early hours of November 29, 1988, KCFD Pumpers 30 and 41 responded to a construction sight to find two fires burning.  What the crews did not know was that this site was also storing 50,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, fuel oil, and other explosives.  The fires ate into those storage containers and in a massive blast that broke windows all over South Kansas City, six firefighters died instantly.  Two other blasts also occurred, each one leaving a crater 80 to 100 feet wide.

The response to the disaster was widespread and heartfelt throughout the Metro.  That incident, as well as several others that have resulted in firefighters' deaths, remain indelibly imprinted on the community conscience, as well they should.

Firefighters have always held a special place in the hearts of the communities they are sworn to protect.  There's not a kid alive who hasn't rushed to a window at the sound of that approaching siren to watch excitedly as the big trucks roll by, the kids wishing with all their hearts that they could join them.  The fire station has for decades been that neighborhood landmark, visited by kids and adults, and welcomed by those brave souls.  I remember my Dad taking me to an open house at our nearby station.  I particularly have vivid memories of being lifted into the seat behind that enormous steering wheel, and getting to pull the rope that sounded the air horn.  Those firefighters instinctively understood the heart of a child, and I think were every bit as excited as I was.  It was a day that lives still in my memory.

That close, personal, and emotional relationship was reinforced on 9/11 as we heard and read about those FDNY souls who climbed up those endless stairs toting hundreds of pounds of equipment as everyone else went the other way.  We all, I think, felt deeply the loss of those 343 brave souls.

If the Chiefs decide to change to this very attractive and deeply meaningful alternative, I thought about what that new symbol might look like.  I attempted to draw my idea out, but the resulting mess convinced me that as an artist, I'm a pretty good motorcyclist.

So take a look, if you will at the graphic at the top of this post.  In the  background is the familiar Maltese Cross that nearly all fire companies employ.  Instead of the words "Fire Dept.", imagine "Fire Chiefs."  On the blank leaves, the letters "K" and "C".  Behind the helmet are two crossed axes, a familiar and common tool of the firefighting profession.  More on that in a bit.  

This symbol would fit comfortably on the sides of a football helmet, and the team would be able to keep their red, white, and gold colors.  Arrowhead, the name for the stadium since its construction might be re-named "The Firehouse."

The more I thought about this, the more ideas came to mind.  Think about this:  When the time comes for the team to take the field for home games, a real-life firefighter stands at a big brass bell, and clangs rapidly as the team sprints out of the runway, accompanied by the sound of a siren.  Maybe after a touchdown, two other firefighters in vintage uniforms, drive a horse-drawn firewagon around the field, while someone else lights off CO2 fire extinguishers.  Instead of headdresses and war paint, fans are decked out in fire helmets and turnout gear.

But here's the best part!  Remember the crossed axes?  Now, the Tomahawk Chop, a act of growing controversy, instead becomes the swinging of a firefighter's ax, accompanied not by a song, but a rhythmic HOOH!  HOOH!  HOOH! which surely would shake the rafters.  The chop, an enormously popular action, is thereby saved, as something within a whole new acceptable and popular context.

We are told that Native American activist groups as a whole don't really have a problem with the Chiefs name, per se, although most of the accompanying traditions do grate on them.  And we have no idea if the Chiefs are even seriously contemplating a change.  But if they do decide to drop the current name and all the accompanying fan-based hoorah, there is an already popular alternative ready and waiting to honor some real American heroes.

And when the winds of change blow through The Firehouse, it will be a welcome and perhaps overdue breath of fresh air.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

"All I Wanted Was a Darn Refrigerator"

LG Industries

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

We're all trading stories these days as to how life has changed with the Pandemic.  To this point, I've been focused on the obvious things, such as masks, distancing, large gatherings, and the daily drumbeat of statistics.  But there are other ways in which the influence has been felt.

A few days ago, the power went out in Pearl City about 2:30 in the morning.  I was awakened by the sudden silence from the grumbly air conditioner in our bedroom.  The power was down for about four hours.  Now, this happened back in January or February and the result was a fried thermostat in one of the refrigerators (the one in the rec room).  We lost a couple hundred dollars of food from that episode.  For some reason, I had allowed myself to forget that particular outcome.  It was two days later when I opened the freezer door, and realized what had happened.  In my defense, I had spent a good portion of those days trying to get all of the electronics back up and running, and interfacing with the cable company about a recalcitrant DVR.  (And let me tell you how much fun THAT was...)  This power outage was different than the last.  All our devices -- computers, modems, routers, external drives, the television, and those pesky microwave clocks -- had to be restarted, reset, and rebooted not once, but multiple times before they became fully functional.  Most modern electronics are supposed to be protected from events like this, but for whatever reason, it took extra effort this time.  Not to mention the aggravation.  

I called the appliance repair folks and was told that he couldn't come out for another three days.  I moved as much of the expensive food (is there any other kind?) into the kitchen freezer.  I managed to save a lot of it, but we still ended up trashing about $300 of defrosted food.   Thankfully, this happened the eve of trash day.

Fast forward to today.  Cheryl and I discussed the situation and decided that perhaps the best solution would be to purchase a new fridge, one that perhaps wouldn't be as susceptible to power outages.  The closest place is Home Depot, where we found a unit (pictured above) for a really good price that fit the hole in which the current one sits.  Since there are no water lines for either fridge, there was no reason to get one with an ice maker or water spigot.  A very basic, simple refrigerator.  Easy, right?

Now, the bad news.  

Because of changes in the way manufacturing works in this new world, there wasn't anything in stock, here or across the canal in the mainland.  Apparently, the unit doesn't get built until its paid for, and then it would be shipped.  Total time? about six to eight weeks.  Yes, I said weeks.  We went ahead and paid, and decided that we would let the appliance repair guy fix the existing unit and pray that it stays functional until arrival of its prodigal replacement.

The other issue involved the original jalousie windows that came with the house some 60 years ago.  In case you don't know, this is a jalousie:

It's an excellent window for the tropics.  It allows a much freer movement of air than a standard double-hung.  It's good enough to keep the torrential rains out, and since there's no snowy winter to worry about, it's R rating is happily irrelevant.

Over time however, the aluminum frames and levers have deteriorated to the point where we can only open and close them by grabbing the glass itself and raising or lowering it into position.  Didn't want to think about what might happen in the glass splintered in my hand.  We also have been wanting to install an air conditioner, but you can't really put one in a jalousie window, not only for the obvious fitment problem, but that those panes can't be closed tight enough to keep the cool air from escaping outside.  We contacted a franchise company, one we've worked with happily on two other occasions.  We got a good price on replacing windows in the front part of the house, and by closing doors, we could finally have a comfortable oasis in a house that regularly sees indoor temps of 95 degrees or higher.

Now, the bad news.

Again, the new supply chain dynamics meant that we would not see our new windows for twelve weeks.  Three months. 90-odd days.  Near Christmas.

It was never this bad before.  Even on an island where you had to source goods from the mainland, you never had to wait more that 2 or 3 weeks to get what you needed.  Less than that for common items.  But in asking and studying, it seems that this is the new norm.  With a reduced workforce, and the fiscal dangers of inventory, it would seem that factories are now "make on demand."  Plus, if a product is ordered, and somebody in that facility gets COVID-19, the plant gets shut down for at least two weeks for quarantine and sanitization, adding even more time to delivery.  

We watch the news, read the articles, glance at the numbers, and listen to the meaningless and irresponsible palaver of two political parties in an election year, and still feel distanced from the problem.  However, it only takes something as prosaic as buying an appliance to feel the impact of the Pandemic, right in the forehead.  

Earlier, I wrote a piece named "Mourning Normal" in which I grew nostalgic for the world that has definitely been left behind.  This experience over this week has re-awakened  the yearning within for a better time, when you didn't have to wait a quarter of a year for an appliance.  The Pandemic has sculpted a new reality for us, one that is far from comfortable.  Like I wrote, it seems that this is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, thus the normal we seek is no more.  Normal is dead.  Long live the New Normal.  

Nobody can predict the failure of a major appliance, or a vehicle, so it's not something you can plan.  And when a refrigerator fails, not only are you out the appliance, but also the food stored inside.  And who likes to buy groceries twice?  We could put stuff in a cooler with ice, but for two months?  Man, all I wanted was a new fridge!

We are in a new environment, one that will require us to adapt.  That means dropping the slide rule by which things like manufacturing and delivery used to be measured, and taking up the new context.  So, the next time I need something replaced, and told that the delivery will be months away, I will not greet that news with squinty-eyed disbelief, but rather with a sagacious nod, and a measured, "Sounds good."

I don't like it, but the situation is completely out of my control, so all I can do is accept and move on.  It feels a bit like surrender, which I dislike even more.  So, this is the new world; the new normal, with a whole new set of expectations.

I guess the only other thing to say, is "Welcome to Planet Pandemic."

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Toughest Task of Parenting


Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

So, after ranting about yardwork the other day, today we went out to the backyard and raked up a two-day accumulation of mango leaves.  Again, the trade winds were blowing, and at times we were forced to re-pile leaves, after chasing them across the property.  But in the midst of that effort, something interesting happened.

As I was raking, something gray flashed by my leg.  I looked down to see a baby bird sitting on the ground.  Above our heads, we became aware of a couple of birds, parents obviously, hovering above and chattering loudly and frantically.  Apparently, it was time for the baby bird to learn to fly, and the lesson was not going well.  We were concerned because our neighborhood is home to a large population of feral cats, and the last thing we wanted was for this cute little birdie to become dinner.  

Of course, we kept our distance.  We know that if you try to put a baby bird back into the tree, the parents will ignore it because of the human smell now on the bird.  Eventually, the bird gathered it's courage and flew a few feet to latch onto the window screen.  We moved in quickly to gather the leaves and then retreated.  

The parents were flitting about frantically, squawking what I hoped were encouraging messages to their baby.  We felt an instant kinship with them, as anyone who has raised children would.  Instinctively, we realized that the time had come for the baby to grow up.

There are a lot of difficult, but important tasks parents must perform over the years, but the most important one is preparing them for what we like to call "real life."  A parent's concern over their kid's welfare never goes away and we have to understand that at some point, they have to be pushed out of the nest and allowed to succeed...or fail...on their own.  For us to continue to hover over them and protect them from life well into their 20's only cripples them.  Our job, then, is to prepare them by allowing them to experience adversity and failure, and making sure they learn from those experiences rather than be defeated by them.  Remember what Yoda told Luke:  "Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery, yes. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters."  Substitute "parents" for "masters" and you have what should be every Dad and Mom's mantra.

It's been said that life is cruel.  That's not really accurate.  Life is indifferent, at least to the individual human.  Whether a person succeeds wildly or fails miserably is in large part up to them.  Being taught that working 60 or 70 hours a week in your 20's, and using that time to learn what is needed is what is required in order to ascend any ladder, regardless of what path is chosen.  Yes, there will be tough times, but the willingness to face them head-on gifts a kind of strength that can be learned no other way.  Also, surviving adversity, whether as defeat or victory, makes the eventual success that much sweeter.

It's hard to push a youngster out of a nest.  It's hard for that child to leave the nest.  But only they can learn how to fly themselves.  We are not immortal.  At some point, we will pass from this life, and they will be left alone.  Only they can keep themselves from becoming cat food.

I thought about this as I watched the baby bird take its first few flights.  Before long, it will learn how to fly higher, to soar on the winds while learning how to use the physics of the atmosphere to their own advantage.  It will learn how to feed and evade predators.  And when the time comes, it will pass those hard-won lessons to their offspring.  

Wisdom can be defined as the confluence of experience and pain.  Earning it is never easy; was never meant to be.  Knowledge is important.  But it is wisdom that teaches us how to wield knowledge.  It is wisdom that tells us when to hold on.

And it is wisdom that will tell us when it is time to let go.

This is how the future survives.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Thorn Rage

The Vanquished

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

I've never been a huge fan of yard work.  I know by that bold statement that I just alienated a whole bunch of guys for whom their grass is their life, but growing up in Missouri meant doing that kind of work when it was in the upper 90's with humidity levels north of 70%.  I mowed when I had to, watered and applied fertilizer when needed, but it was never a priority for me to have a yard that looked like the 18th green at Sawgrass.  I had four kids and a motorcycle, so my priorities were elsewhere.

I live on a tropical island now, so the lawn care -- and mango tree and coffee plant and banana tree -- season has no start or end.  It just is.  I remember how hard we had to work keeping rust off our ship in the Navy.  This is the closest thing to that endless task.

The big mango tree in the back yard drops leaves like there's no tomorrow.  In Pennsylvania, we had maples which, when they drop leaves in the fall, do it all over about three days.  After that, we were literally knee-deep in maple leaves.  Of course, once that was done, the branches were empty.  This mango tree drops leaves all year long but always has a never-ending supply on its branches.  I literally have to rake every day.  I can fill a 55-gallon trash barrel with leaves in five days flat, no problem.  There are times when I look up and swear its doing this just to annoy me.  The back yard is oriented so when the northeast trade winds are blowing  -- 20 to 25 mph -- the air just howls through the yard.  Not only does this add to the leaf droppage, but after many minutes of raking and gathering, the wind just spreads it all around again.  I have a device to put the leaves in the bin, but it seems just as I lift it up to the edge of the bin, the wind manages to empty it.  Grrr.

The banana tree doesn't drop leaves.  It does other things.  The tree is actually a collection of several trunks, each growing out of the ground by itself. When you harvest a bunch of bananas, the trunk dies, and either falls down, or has to be cut.  It's nasty work, as the trunk is sappy and sticky, which gums up the saw blade.  I guess that's the price to pay for fresh bananas.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Robots and the Dark Future of Labor

"Flippie" at work on the grill

The future of food service?

In addition to doing our jobs at least as well as we do them, 
intelligent robots will be cheaper, faster, and far more reliable than humans. 
And they can work 168 hours a week, not just 40. 
No capitalist in her right mind would continue to employ humans.
--Kevin Drumm

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey
except images and quote.

Robots have always held a fascination for people.  Not for just the physical and computational labor that is done, but as science fiction has shown, as companions as well.  But the actual appearance of robotic technology in our daily lives hasn't been looked upon a just around the corner.  Always it was decades, even centuries away.  But recent developments, and anticipated advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence have put us on the cusp of a paradigm shift in technology and the impact on human labor.

Robots, androids, etc. have been sci-fi staple for as long as the genre has existed.  There was Robbie from 1956's "Forbidden Planet."  Then "Robot" from the original "Lost in Space."  ("Danger, Will Robinson!)  Although with Bill Mumy, it always came out "Robut".)  C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8 from the Star Wars franchise.  The cute Wall-E and the nuke-wielding EVE from the eponymous Disney movie.  My personal favorite was Robin Williams' beautiful portrayal of the android Andrew in "Bicentennial Man."  And who could forget those Terminators?

These were created for entertainment purposes, for sure.  But in these portrayals we saw both the good and the horrifying sides of machine intelligence.  Robots have been active in industry for years.  I used to work with one making clutch disks for Caterpillar tractors.  It had to be monitored, in case it lost control and started flinging steel rims around the plant, but other than the set up required to move from one size disk to another, it pretty much ran by itself.  My biggest job was making sure it was resupplied with materials.  But even then, some 20 years ago, I could see a point where another intelligent machine could do that job.  The introduction of robots into the retail world has been slow, mainly in response to human sensitivities, but make no mistake, the day when robots will fit you with clothes, help you find things at Walmart, repair your car or home, take your order, cook your food, and deliver it to your table is closer than you think.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Badly-Needed Moment of Humor


Marine Life Photography

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

This beautiful snow-white bird is very common in Hawai'i, often seen walking the emerald-green grass of area parks.  While they are very pretty, I'd just as soon not have them around me.


Because I want to live a life free of egrets.

Oh, come on!  That ain't half bad for a Pandemic!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Waking Nightmare

From Pinterest

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

Like most people, I have dreams.  In this context, not the goal-oriented life-focused kind of dream, but rather the gauzy ambiguous visitor that comes in the night.  Most times, I wake up with the images rapidly fading from my mind, never to be recalled.  But once in awhile, one arrives with enough impact to stay.

In my dream, I'm out walking, something I do while awake several times per week.  The sun is shining, but suddenly a shadow passes over me.  I look up to see a hawk circling, eyeing me in a disquietingly speculative manner.  I continue to walk, but suddenly there is a whoosh just over my head.  I look up again to see the raptor banking sharply for another pass.  In my dream, I cannot run or even dodge and as the bird swoops ever closer, I begin to feel afraid.  Somehow I know that eventually the hawk will strike home, its claws sinking into the back of my neck.

Yeah, I know.  Stephen King stuff.

Now, I rarely have nightmares, as I am generally speaking a happy and upbeat kinda guy.  But this was different.  Dreams and nightmares, according to the experts, are reflections of the subconscious, mirroring the unspoken and unrecognized fears that somehow never make it to the surface.  So, for the past few days, I've ruminated over those images, and I think I figured out what birthed the unwelcome nighttime visitor.  

Like everyone else on this planet, people in the U.S. in general, here in Hawai'i in particular are feeling for the first time, a very real sense of this Pandemic.  The feelings started with dismissiveness, and elevated to discomfort, then concern, worry, and now fear.  As with most events, it started as being something that was remote; happening far away.  But as time has passed, it has come ever closer and therefore, more personal.  The precise mode of transmission from person to person is still not fully known, as well as how long the virus particles can survived in the open air and on surfaces.  Sure, we engaged in mitigating activities -- masks, social distancing, staying away from large gatherings -- but the circle of infection seems to be closing in on all of us.  And as time passes, it seems almost inevitable that we will be infected.  

Hence, the dream.  The hawk is the virus, circling in the air around me.  Like a predator, it circles ever closer.  There doesn't seem to be any place to hide; no sanctuary, no wall of protection to stand between us and the virus.  With dread certitude, it seeks us out.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Spreading the Light of Joy In These Dark Days


From Pinterest

Sam:  "It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?
But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow.  Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.  And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t,
they kept going because they were holding on to something."

Frodo : "What are we holding on to, Sam?"

Sam : "That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. 
And that's worth fighting for."
--J.R.R. Tolkien

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

These days it is hard to look around and not see darkness.  The Pandemic, the spreading of that other virus, anger/hate/violence.  It becomes easy to give in to the negativity, to just lay back and wait for the pending disasters to overwhelm.  It is particularly difficult when it seems the whole world is collapsing and we feel there is nothing we can do to stop it.  I've had those moments in the past couple of weeks, but today something happened.

I was out walking in the area of O'ahu known as Ewa (pronounced EVUH) this morning after delivering my mother-in-law to her activity center.  Since I'm down there once a week, I use that place for my exercise walk.  It's a nice break because it's all flat, none of the steep and difficult hills around Pearl City.  And plenty of shade.

When you visit a particular place at roughly the same time often enough, you see the same people out doing the same thing as you.  In this case, exercising.  We don't know each other by name, but we wave, salute, or tip the hat just the same.  As outdoor exercisers are still exempt from the mask rule, smiles were visible on just about every face I encountered.  I began to reflect on how my spirit was lifted by these simple expressions.  I thought about other times when strangers spoke to me, wished me well, made me laugh.  I realized that in a dark world, light can come from such small, random moments, brightening the world even just a little.

No one person can change the world.  But we all occupy a small corner, and I think we owe it to each other to try to make that small space better for us all.  The great thing is that this doesn't require a ton of effort.  All that is needed is an awareness of others, and perhaps some concern as well.  Fear is nibbling at everybody's lives these days and I think we underestimate the tremendous good that can come from small acts of happy kindness.  Night is scary sometimes.  But kindnesses bring the dawn that can light up someone's life.  Light dispels fear, and in these times, that is so very important.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Mourning Normal

Times Square, New York City
CNN.com © 2020

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

"What I've started, I must finish.
I've gone too far to turn back.
Regardless of what may happen,
I have to go forward."
--Michael Ende

It's late in the evening.  I'm at work and I've just finished reviewing the latest set of status reports on the Pandemic.  Globally, the case count is over 20 million, a quarter of those in this country.  739,000 people have died around the world, 163,000 in the United States.  The numbers are, by any measure or context, staggering. In the U.S. Civil War, the last round of historical reviews put the death toll, military and civilian, at over 700,000, and that out of a total population of 31 million.  I won't extrapolate that out to modern population numbers because 739,000 dead is a catastrophic number, regardless of why or when.

What makes such a number even more stunning is that this war, unlike the other one, isn't over.  In fact, it may never end.

We thought, back in May, that we had this thing nearly licked. But something -- and nobody knows exactly what at this point -- re-ignited the flame which has now turned into a global firestorm.  Some, perhaps most people are trying to do the right things, like social distancing, masks, staying home, becoming clean freaks. But there are others who aren't, who think that they can bring back "normal" by doing everything they used to do, regardless of the harm they are inflicting on others.  That selfishness, as much as any other cause, not only created the now, but has laid a grim path for the future.

We look around at a world completely changed.  We try to carry on, but the Pandemic has spun completely out of control, and we walk our streets fearing that moment, that random passing encounter when this virus' icy claws swoop in and clamp down.  It is a fearful time, one that has led to some highly contradictory decisions, like shuttering houses of worship while at the same time allowing protesters to swarm the streets, as if the First Amendment could be politically parsed.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

The Cascadia Subduction Zone: The Very Real Threat


The "crumpled fender" zone marking the
location of the Cascadia Subduction Zone

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

Within the past 35 years or so, a new seismological and oceanographic threat was first proposed, and finally proven. This sleeping giant is the Cascadia Subduction Zone which lies beneath thousands of feet of ocean 60 miles off the coast of northwestern North America. The scale of catastrophe that will result from this fault cannot be underestimated. But the process that led to this discovery is a detective tale that is hard to beat. 

In 1960, a massive earthquake tore the earth apart off the coast of Chile. It was measured at magnitude 9.5 on the Richter Scale, and still remains the most powerful temblor ever recorded. Four years later, another large quake occurred off southern Alaska, that wrecked not only the capitol city of Anchorage, but dozens of smaller villages and ports along the coast. The similarity of the two events helped lead to the movement of plate tectonics from theory to fact.

Basically, the Earth’s crust is a 40 to 60-mile-thick layer of rock which floats on the semi-liquid of the next layer down, called the mantle. The crust is broken up into massive pieces, called plates, which float upon the very hot mantle.  Within the mantle, huge convection currents are generated which propel the plates around.  

Looking at a world map, it seems obvious that South America and Africa fit together like puzzle pieces. Scientists for years had seen other continents and islands that also had common edges. When brought to acceptance, plate tectonics proved that the continents and the plates beneath them had been in motion for hundreds of millions of years. The current configuration is the result of the breakup of the last great supercontinent, Pangaea which began about 175 million years ago. Now, scientists know that the motion of these separate plates create seismic zones where they crash together. These collisions have been responsible for the creation of most mountain ranges on this planet. Those boundaries became the objects of intense research, which led to the identification of subduction zones.

A subduction zone, or convergent fault, is where an oceanic plate is diving, or subducting under a continental plate. They are located all throughout the Pacific ring of fire, and nearly all of them have been responsible for the largest seismic events in history. What scientists discovered was the disquieting fact that when subduction zones rupture, they only generate earthquakes north of magnitude 8. Recently, two events, the Indonesian Boxing Day Tsunami and the Tohoku Tsunami were both born of magnitude 9 earthquakes generated by subduction zones. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Empty Nights and Irish Music

Another joyful night at the fiddle shop.

"My feet always dance to Irish music."
--Ciaran Hinds

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

A few years ago, I stopped in an Irish pub near downtown Denver for lunch.  I had heard that there would be live music in the afternoon, so I stuck around.  Along about 3 o'clock, folks started coming through the door carrying instrument cases of various shapes.  They sat around a long table in front of the windows and after some conversation, they burst into music.  I was instantly hooked.  I went back every Sunday that I could after that until time came for us to leave Colorado for good.  A knowledgeable guitar player put me in touch with a group that was meeting in Honolulu, our eventual destination. I started attending the sessions, first as strictly an observer, and eventually an occasional singer.  I felt drawn to participate, so I ordered a Bodhran, which is an  Irish frame drum, from a craftsman in Dublin, Ireland.  

Learning the drum proved to be a bit of a challenge.  I have a good sense of rhythm, but the technical aspects of playing the drum correctly kept me practicing at home in private until I felt competent enough to join in the session.  I still had a lot to learn about volume and the types of rhythms which supported the other players.  Fortunately, thankfully, they are a patient bunch and they brought me along with a lot of encouragement.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Hurricane Douglas and the Mysteries of Meteorological Miracles

Douglas pulling away.
National Weather Service

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

It's been a day of tense anticipation, moments of dread, even fear, and finally a collective sigh of relief.  As I write this, Hurricane Douglas is passing Kaua'i, the northernmost main island headed for obscurity in the vast reaches of the North Pacific Ocean.

At noon today, the outlook was not good.  The storm had zigged to the south which put it's forecasted path across the center of all eight islands.  What happened is an excellent tutorial on the exigencies of Pacific cyclones.  

The Pacific is a vast laboratory of meteorology, ranging from the chill waters of the Gulf of Alaska, through the constant storms of the Inter-Tropical Comvergence Zone at the equator and all the way down to where its waters wash up against the ice of Antarctica.  It is the largest ocean on this planet, 63.8 million square miles.  For the past few days, Douglas had been steered by a ridge of high pressure a thousand miles north of Hawai'i.  The pressure from that ridge kept Douglas on a consistent WNW path (290 degrees, for you compass fans).  But starting yesterday, a weakness developed in that ridge.  As a result, the hurricane turned in a more northerly direction.  The difference was only five degrees, but it was enough.  The storm passed so far north of the Big Island, that they were taken completely out of the cone.  It continued to trend in that direction, dumping heavy rains on Maui and Lana'i -- but nowhere near the precipitation that had been anticipated.  

But once past Lana'i, Douglas zigged back to the west.  It looked for all the world like O'ahu was going to get nailed.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Something Stormy This Way Comes

The Beast, poised to strike
National Weather Service

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F, Couey

I've been a part of severe weather events throughout my life, growing up with thunderstorms, tornadoes, and floods in Missouri.  I've learned that nature can have its violent moments, perhaps delivering a come-comeuppance to these arrogant humans who actually think they're in charge.  

Today, the state of Hawai'i is preparing for the arrival of hurricane Douglas which has been churning its way across the Pacific for the last week or so.  The forecasted impacts have shifted back and forth, responding to the little wriggles in its path.  Two days ago, it looked grim.  The storm's path would deliver a head-on strike to the Big Island, Maui, Lana'i, and O'ahu.  Since then, the track has shifted northward, and as of this evening, the Big Island is completely out of the cone.  The other islands remain in the cone, but the impacts will be less than what they could have been.  Kaua'i remains the one island that will get a direct hit, but again, that could change.

The storm center will pass about 30 miles north of the far northern tip of O'ahu as a weak Cat 1 or a strong tropical storm, but this island will still be subject to powerful winds in the 50-70 mph range, and up to 10 inches of rain.  On an island consisting of knife-edged mountains and long, steep valleys, the flooding could be epic.

Emergency shelters are opening, businesses have boarded or taped their windows, sandbags are placed, and the Navy and Coast Guard are putting to sea as I write this.  Aircraft have either been chained to the concrete or moved into storm-proof hangers.  Flights out of the state have been put on hold, and the mad rush at Costco and Sam's Club, as well as Lowe's and Home Depot has started to ebb.  There is a sense of the sharply defined watchfulness of the prepared.

Monday, July 13, 2020

This Moment of Mahomes

That walkin' talkin' pass-throwin' 
paradigm shiftin' and now
bank-breakin' QB
(Photo unattributed, but thought to be Kansas City Star)

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

No Chiefs fan will ever forget the moment.  Super Bowl LIV, fourth quarter, about seven minutes left.  Chiefs down by 10, and 49ers fans full of gleeful anticipation.  Patrick Mahomes had thrown his second interception capping a distinctly underwhelming performance to that point.  Then, came the Jet Chip Wasp, that audacious play that changed the trajectory of the game, and of NFL history.  Seven minutes and 21 points later, a half-century of football misery was forever ended in Kansas City.

And yet, none of us were all that surprised, or even nervous.  We had already seen our quarterback lead this team from a 24-point deficit to a 51-7 run and a win in the divisional round.  In the AFC Championship game, he did it again, this time from being down 10 points twice and 17 points another time, a scintillating victory that opened the gates to Miami.  We had learned that with #15 behind center, no game was ever truly lost.  

Now, I am enough of a fan to know that this kind of thing doesn't happen in a vacuum.  In order to make those comebacks happen, the rest of the offense, and the defense and special teams had to step up and play heroically, which they did.  But it is impossible to overstate the impact that Patrick Mahomes II had on those events.  His renown goes beyond just football.  To find a similar kind of epic splash made by a young athlete, you have to go back to Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio, Michael Jordan, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  These are athletes that changed the very nature of the games they played, and elevated the expectations forever.

Now, with just two full seasons as a starter under his belt, with a Super Bowl win and two MVP awards, this young man has been rewarded with the largest contract in sports history:  12 years, $503 million.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

A Cold Brush with Doom


“In hard times, we learn something incredibly precious: 
The fist of the universe can hit us anywhere, anytime."
― Mehmet Murat ildan

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

Monday was in all respects a normal kind of day.  Nothing out of the ordinary happened, and I certainly felt fine.  Well, ordinary anyway.  But when I awoke Tuesday morning, nothing was normal.  

I noticed it first when I tried to get out of bed.  I felt a little dizzy, but I wrote that off to allergies.  As is my custom, I fixed breakfast for my mother-in-law, then headed out the door to begin my regular walk.  As soon as I cleared the carport roof and I was hit by the strong tropical sunlight, it hit me.  A wave of weakness and fatigue, along with a fresh round of dizziness communicated that my regular 5-miler was not happening that day.  I went back inside and reclined on the couch.  I had a backlog of programs on the DVR, so I intended to amuse myself thus for awhile.  I thought that this was just a temporary thing that would pass in a short period of time, but I was wrong.  As the day went on, I felt ever worse.  I fell asleep several times, and except for getting Mom her lunch, stayed there for the balance of the day.  

Cheryl made some of her killer delicious chicken soup, and I felt a little better, but the process of showering completely wiped me out.

Wednesday morning was worse.  I had no energy for anything, and the dizziness began to upset my stomach.  I called my Doctor and he told me to go immediately to the lung clinic downtown.  We drove there and I went in.  The current pandemic protocols required Cheryl to wait outside, which made her a little angry.  Once inside, the process was the epitome of efficiency.  Inside of 30 minutes, I had my vitals taken, my H&P completed, and had a long and searching conversation with a pulmonologist.  Once he concluded that this wasn't cardiac-related (I have five stents in there), I was given a nasal swab for flu and COVID-19.  The flu swab came back negative, but I would have to wait until Thursday morning to get the other results.

So, we hung out downtown until the rush hour had cleared, getting some dinner in the process, before coming home.  Cheryl was sure I didn't have the virus.  At least that's what she said.  But I could tell she was worried, nonetheless.  

For the balance of the evening, I thought long and hard about what a diagnosis of COVID-19 would do to my life.  First of all, I was mostly worried about if I had given this thing to Cheryl.  She is the most important person in my universe, and getting her infected would have been devastating.  Also, she works in the OR at Tripler AMC and the revelation that she had been exposed would have created a logistical problem of nightmare proportions.  My mother-in-law is 93, and thus lies in the most vulnerable of demographics.  If I had inadvertently given her this thing, I would never forgive myself.   I work in a 24/7 watch center along with about 15 other people.  If they had been exposed, it would have meant quarantine for all.  The watch center, called the State Warning Point, would have been left completely vacated which would have been a catastrophic situation for the State Emergency Management Agency.  Then, all the people I had been in contact with would have been exposed, and required to be tested, including the elderly folks who attend my church.

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Daunting Task of Faith in a Broken World

© whatchristianswanttoknow.com

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey

There is an image, and the story behind it, from World War II that had a profound influence on me and remains with me even today.

On November 20, 1943, the U.S. 5th Fleet and the 2nd Marine Division opened the campaign in the Central Pacific with an assault on Tarawa Atoll. The invasion had been planned down to the last detail, except one. Nobody had made a detailed study of the tides. When the craft carrying the Marines approached Betio Island, it was suddenly realized that the tide had not risen sufficiently for the craft to pass over the reef. For the first 18 hours of the attack, the Marines were forced to leave the landing craft and wade through chest-deep water for 500 yards. In the blurry frames from a portable camera, the young Marines could be seen moving slowly through the water and being mowed down by automatic weapons fire from the island. But the survivors did not stop or turn around. They kept on moving forward. Enough of them were able to get to the beach to establish a presence, but it wasn’t until noon the next day that the tide rose, and subsequent waves of men and supplies were able to reach the shore.

Those Marines were the product of boot camp, which at that time was a study in human psychology. The recruits, through the viciousness of their drill instructors and the extreme pressure and stress of the training itself were at first broken down, all the habits and attitudes of their previous civilian lives excised and replaced by the ethic of the Corps. Some have questioned the brutality and necessity of such training, but one has only to watch that brief few frames of young men pushing forward even though others were dying around them to understand why. In order to be reborn warriors, they first had to be broken.

In Akron, Ohio in 1935, two alcoholics spoke to one another about the nature of alcoholism and a possible solution. Born out of that conversation was Alcoholics Anonymous, which has helped hundreds of thousands of people. As part of the process, a person has to admit to themselves that they are addicted to alcohol and are thus powerless in its presence.

For many, this life-altering moment comes at a point in their lives when they have literally lost everything – jobs, marriage, relationships with family and friends. Alcohol has taken over their life, and they have hit rock bottom. Even when they begin to work themselves back to sobriety, they must admit to themselves and to other members at meetings that alcoholism cannot be cured, and thus they are alcoholics for the rest of their lives, even if they never take another drink. Part of the power of the organization is that everyone there, especially those who volunteer as sponsors for newer members, has been there; knows how alcohol abuse destroys lives, and will always be their shadow. There are no non-addicts; everyone has suffered.

People turn to AA when they are completely broken and realize that they no longer have any control.

Control, or the appearance of, is held in high esteem by humans. This expectation is manifested through academics in our youth and in the careers we choose. We are taught by the world that it is up to us to firmly grasp the reins of our lives and steer ourselves to achievement, notoriety, and wealth. One of the harshest lessons of life is realizing how little control we actually have over what happens to us. There are those of us who have chosen to place trust and faith in God at least in words. But do our actions reflect those words?

In both examples I described, the people involved had to reach a point of absolute desolation and defeat. They had to recognize that they had lost complete control over what was happening to them, and it was necessary to make that tough admission that they had failed. But in that moment of despair, they found in something or someone the power that they lacked. It is so with disciples.

In Proverbs 3:5-6, we are told, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” A disciple of Christ is not a whole person; they have been broken and been reborn through the process of placing complete trust and faith in the Redeemer. God and Jesus cannot enter in until we make this choice. Nobody has or will ever be dragged kicking and screaming before the throne. It is a choice the we, and we alone can make.

In Psalms 139:23-24, we read: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” God knows us best: He is able to peer into our hearts and minds and see that which we are unable or unwilling to. But we have to invite Him in. And the only way to do that is through a daily, robust prayer life.

People sometimes don’t understand the nature of prayer. They feel that a prayer must be loaded with $50 words, expressed in Shakespearean prose, spoken in stentorian oratory, and accompanied by a display of great authority. Not so. Prayer, put simply, is just a conversation between you and God. Speak respectfully, but plainly, colloquially, honestly. Speak from the heart, in the same way you would with your most trusted friend, which in reality, is who God is. It doesn’t have to be flawlessly edited or polished. You see, God knows our hearts and minds, so He knows what we are trying to say, and has complete understanding of the issue we face. That we hear ourselves so poorly articulate things makes no difference to Him. He understands completely. Our daily visits with Him reflect the love we feel, and our commitment to His infinite wisdom. And the more often we do this, the more readily we will see the answers and solutions we seek.

A few years ago, I undertook to teach a class on the Book of Matthew. I used a variety of sources and resources to plan, organize, and craft the individual lessons. But foremost in that preparation was the study of the book itself. Every week, as I prepared the lesson, I spent a lot of time studying those scriptures. (As one salty old preacher told me once, “We can READ a book; but we must STUDY the Bible.”) I did this so I would be prepared not only to teach, but to field the inevitable questions from the students. As the weeks passed though, something surprising happened.

The world we live in is complex, impossible to understand, and rife with conflict, anger, and hate. But during this period, I found that as I looked at the world, I was seeing things with a clarity and understanding I had never before experienced. I began to understand that there was something greater going on. One night as I lay drifting off to sleep, a door opened. For a brief, exhilarating (and scary) moment, I caught a glimpse of God’s plan. Not the details mind you, but just the reassuring knowledge that His hand was on the wheel of events, and that I was not to waste time worrying. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Of course, being human, once the course was finished, I drifted away from my daily study, for which I feel more that a little shame. But please let my experience be a guide for you. If you cultivate in your life daily prayer and scripture study, windows of understanding will be opened to you as well. These are not the kind of tips that help your 401k, but will give you a sense of peace as you contemplate the apparent chaos of a world gone mad.

The world is more than a little crazy right now, and of course, we are concerned. But remember what it was like in Jesus' time. Groups within the Jewish community were fighting with each other, and above all was the suffocating presence of the Romans. Jesus started His ministry, giving hope to a world that had been bereft of hope. Then, He was arrested, tried, and crucified. His followers were devastated. Surely, this was the end. But as we see through the long lens of history, the crucifixion of Christ was not an end, but a beginning of something that has circled the world. The people in that time could not see or anticipate the global spread of Christianity. We, at this time, cannot see how this current unhappiness will end up. But know that, as we saw in the past, regardless of how bad the world looks to us, events are in the hands of the divine. And we need to have faith in a result we can't now understand, and may not be around to witness.

At some point, God will task us with a job to do, not large or famous or important, but more often than not, seemingly small and disconnected. But God seeks to save souls, and we are His tools in that task. When someone in need crosses our path, we will feel a quickening of the Spirit, and we must respond. The more intimate our relationship with God and Jesus is, the more aware of those moments we will be.

In this country, we are sinking deeper into a political war, one dominated by hate, anger, and violence. Some of us are compelled to take part, either as a protester or an activist. While I understand the passion and the need to be involved (Woodstock generation, here), I think we need to remember that Jesus joined no political party. He did not choose to join and dominate the Sanhedrin, although it was something He could easily have done. Jesus didn’t take part in any of the movements, like the Zealots. Instead, He had only one agenda, and that was the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. This placed him above the conflicts of the time, effectively rendering them irrelevant.

I wonder sometimes if we need to be in the world in the same way, not joining parties or movements, but being good disciples to the individual souls we meet. When the multitudes of people came to Jesus to be healed, our Savior was presented with a daunting task. He could have simply raised His hands over the crowd and pronounced, “You are all healed,” and they would have been. But He didn’t. Jesus took the time and the immense effort to touch and heal each and every individual who was there. This is the lesson we need to remember. Jesus’ ministry was never about numbers – large crowds. He ministered to individuals. He saved souls, one by one.

Now that seems difficult, if not impossible. We have been indoctrinated to think that if we aren’t helping millions at a time, we simply aren’t accomplishing anything. But we must put aside our human instincts and instead trust God to lead us; teach us; show us where He wants us to minister. We may think that we only helped one or two people last month. But remember that we are not alone. There are millions of us out here, and we must trust God that our individual mission will unfold as He directs.

The hardest thing for any human to do is let go of the wheel. The best disciple is one whose trust is in God and Jesus, and not in their own driving skills. But if we are willing to cede control to Our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, then we will find that we will be on the path He has designed for us. This is our test. We are broken people in a broken world. Do we have the faith? Can we let go? We must allow God to take the wheel.

And there, we will find peace.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A Crater, the Moon, and a Moment

Copyright © 2020
by Ralph F. Couey
Image and written content

I work inside a volcano.  An extinct one, to be sure, but still awe inspiring.  Diamond Head rises above the southeast coast of O'ahu, it's familiar shape a landmark as long as people have lived here.  Le'ahi, as it is known by the Hawai'ians, is one of several cones left over from an eruptive period that lasted about 200,000 years about a half-million years ago.  Beyond the obvious, it's a fascinating place.  The state park takes up a good portion of the crater and includes a rather daunting climb up to the summit off the tuff cone which provides a spectacular view.  During a normal (non-pandemic) day, hundreds of tourists arriving by car, bus, tram, and foot make the climb.  When the park is open, it's a busy, noisy place.

But around 6 p.m., the gates across the Kahala tunnel are closed and locked.  Awhile later, the park employees, National Guard, and day workers from the Emergency Management Agency leave for home, and things quiet down.  Those of us who are left are standing watch, monitoring a multitude of websites, radios, and other interesting pieces of technology, prepared to sound the alarm if the worst happens.  

The crater is a very quiet place as the sun goes down.  The thick, high walls keep the noise of the city outside.  They also screen out most of the skyglow, which means it gets dark.  Very dark.  Like, inside a black hole dark.  You can see stars overhead, better than outside.  As the light fades, the slightly rolling plain becomes faded and indistinct.  And then all you hear is the restless wind in the trees.  But what is most striking is the sense of peace.