About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 63 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Musings On a Night Sky

The sky over Pearl City looking to the southwest
from the downloadable app Cartes du Ciel

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

I have taken to spending the post-sunset hours in the backyard with my feet up in a zero gravity chair looking up at the sky.  By that time of the evening, the air has cooled somewhat, and at times there is a pleasant breeze making things very comfortable after the heat of the day.  There is a lot of light pollution here, but there are still a few stars visible, and of course the brighter planets.  

Now, in the process of preparing to relocate, we rid ourselves of a lot of stuff, but somehow upon arrival discovered we had inadvertently included a pair of 10x50 Bushnell binoculars.  I'm not at all sure how we acquired them, or why we still have them.  But they have come in handy from time to time.  Tonight, remembering them hanging on a hook in our room, I took them outside with me.  

I set up my chair in a spot where I had a pretty good slice of the sky visible towards the west and southwest, free of the two large trees in the backyard and the neighbor's roof.  I hadn't consulted a star chart before doing this -- not wanting to work too hard at this -- so I wasn't sure exactly what I'd be looking at.  But the first object I turned the glasses towards was a bright point of light fairly low in the southwest.  As soon as the object came in view, I knew exactly what it was:  Jupiter.  

When I was in the Navy, one of the things I enjoyed doing after late watches was to go up on the signal bridge.  Up there was a very powerful set of binoculars mounted in a steel frame.  The purpose of them was to spot and identify ships on the horizon.  But when you turned them in the vertical direction (and as long as the ship was in calm seas) you could see some pretty remarkable things.  Jupiter was always fun because if you looked carefully, you could see several of its moons.  If you knew where to look and it was the right time of year, you could see Saturn, although the rings could not be resolved.  Mars was a visible red disk, and there were other things you could see as well.  At the right latitude, you could catch stunning views of the stellar nursery of the Orion Nebula.

Now the glasses I was holding tonight weren't nearly as powerful.  But in looking at Jupiter, I could clearly see two of the moons.  I scanned other places and discovered something interesting.  Looking up with my aging eyes, I could see maybe one or two stars.  With the binoculars, I was able to see many more.  Many people have gone to the mountains and looked up at a sky full of stars on a clear winter night.  This was close to what I was seeing.  There were many that became clear immediately, and a host of others forming a kind of hazy glowing background.  I was out there for a good two hours just looking up, kinda wishing for a telescope.

One of my first reliable memories was sitting on the floor at my mother's feet listening to Alan Shepard's suborbital flight on the radio -- yes, on the radio.  I was hooked at that point, and that frenetic, sometimes tragic, era we remember as "The Space Race" occupied my every waking moment.  Still does, as I bemoan the fact that humans haven't left earth orbit in nearly half a century.  As a corollary to that, I developed a serious interest in science fiction, especially the works of Arthur C. Clarke.  I was drawn to stories about journeys to other planets using believable technology.  It was perhaps inevitable that I would eventually be drawn into the universes of Star Trek and Star Wars, but the drama of the narrative took second place to the demonstration of the technologies.  Age and a clearer understanding of challenges of physics lying between humanity and interstellar journeys has led me to the kind of wistful realization that while exploration of our solar system lies within our grasp, the stars will remain forever untouchable.  

The universe is unimaginably vast.  The area of the known universe calculates out to around 28 digits of cubic light years.  We know that there are thousands of planets outside our solar system, a few with orbits around stable stars which might harbor life.  But the prison of distance and capability means that if there is another intelligent technological species out there, then we must remain strangers. 

Not that its such a bad thing.  Until we stop wanting to beat each other's brains out, we have no business exporting our internecine violence to other solar systems.

But, as I've said before, that doesn't stop me from looking up at the night sky at the distant stars and wondering if maybe, just maybe, someone out there is looking back at me, asking the same unanswerable question.

It is the perfect muse with which to gaze speculatively upwards.

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Good Parts of Walking Uphill

The day dawns over Pearl Harbor

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Five weeks into our stay in Hawai'i, a semblance of routine is finally taking hold.  There is a schedule of sorts, which now provides me some spare time here and there.  As part of that, I've started walking again.

Last year, I tallied over 1,200 miles locomoting bipedally on the streets and hiking trails of various places.  I was very proud of that, especially since I exceeded my goal by over 200 miles.  Assuming, as we often do, that nothing significant would change, I set a very ambitious goal of 1,500 miles for 2018.  

Oh, the foolish whims of man...

Over the past two years at my best I was logging over 100 miles per month.  Of course, I had nothing else going on, except cooking and grampa time.  But back in April, I took a job at Target in Aurora, Colorado, which limited the number of hours I could spend exercising.  Then in late summer, Cheryl got word that she had landed her dream contract in Honolulu.  What followed was a long eight weeks of selling, donating, and storing our worldly possessions, getting the car ready to be shipped, and attending to the plethora of details accompanying a major relocation.  Hence, my mileage totals began to drop precipitately.  August, the time when we were packing, shipping, and relocating, the best I could muster was a tad less than 28 measly miles for the whole month, which in the past would have been a below-average week.  

Even after arriving, there was all we had to do to get settled in and established.  I transferred to the Target in Ala Moana, but given my responsibilities toward my 92-year-old mother-in-law, an outside job simply became too difficult to maintain.  Now, things are settling down and a rhythm is re-establishing itself.  Cheryl's oldest sister comes in on Mondays and Fridays to take mom to visit her sisters, which gives me time to shop groceries, run errands, and of course, walk.  Tuesdays we go to the Ala Wai Country Club where mom has her karaoke group in the morning, after which is lunch.  Wednesdays is Ground Golf at Blaisdell (aka Pearl Harbor) Park.  The rest of the week I stay at home, doing laundry, and keeping an eye on the aging energizer bunny, making sure she eats right and doesn't overdue things.  Saturday, Cheryl is home and we usually go to the farmers market for fruit and vegetables.  Sunday is the (thus far) 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs at 7:00 am, then church and an afternoon spent lazing around the house and sweating profusely in the heat and humidity.  In amongst those times are those hours when I can with a clear conscience don my exercise gear and hit the pavement.

There is plenty to see on these sojourns, including the very warm and friendly natives.  Having studied the local real estate market, I can only shake my head upon seeing homes valued at $800,000 plus that wouldn't fetch six figures almost anyplace else.  The homes are, as anywhere, personal statements of the owners.  Many are beautifully kept paradises.  Others...not so much.  A lot of locals run auto repair activities out of their residences, and the driveway and lawns are decorated with a host of broken and damaged cars.  Across the street, one of Mom's neighbors' front lawn is decorated by a large cabin cruiser that I know hasn't touched salt water since at least 1981.  Many have built on to their original structures, turning their homes into apartments.  Now those front lawns and driveways are filled with cars parked in haphazard fashion to the point where one wonders how they get out to go to work in the mornings.  Other places look as though the owners are trying to put Lowe's and Home Depot out of business.  The carports are full of a myriad of bottles containing yard chemicals, automotive chemicals, and the mountainous remains of what I suspect are failed home improvement projects.  On the mainland (what locals call the 48 contiguous states) there are many homes like that, but the ugliness is hidden by a garage door or shed.  Here, because of the architectural choice of carports and tiny yards, the mess is out for all to see.  It is a testament to the tolerance of neighbors to see a picture perfect home and lawn sitting next door or across the street from something that looks like a superfund site.  

As is my pattern, I have identified several routes, all of which tally five to seven miles in length where I can walk.  Being an island, there is a lot of up-and-down component to these routes, which makes them very challenging in the heat and humidity.  On the upside (no pun intended), the scenery is beautiful, especially when I ascend the hills above Pearl Harbor and am gifted with a magnificent view.  It does rain here, but its usually a very gentle rain which is actually refreshing.  I do have to be cautious on those days when the trade winds fail and the heat and humidity climb to very uncomfortable levels.  Last week, I had to cut one of my walks short on a dangerously hot and steamy day, calling Cheryl to come pick me up after logging six very tough miles.  

Anytime you move to a different place, there is a certain amount of acclimatization that must take place.  I have written much about what a challenge the altitude was in Colorado, the heat in Arizona, and the traffic and air quality in Southern California.  It's the same here.  We are way closer to the equator, which means the sun's rays are much more direct.  And it is the tropics, which means it is humid.  September and early October are usually the worse times for this kind of weather, but even the locals have been complaining about the unusual heat.  I try when possible to do these walks in the early morning and late evening when things are just a bit more pleasant.  Over time,  I am told, my skin pores will open up and I will begin to be more tolerant of the weather conditions, and I am beginning to feel the changes already.

I still plan to go hiking along the multitude of excellent trails here on O'ahu when I can have a full day to spend.  But for now, it's enough that my legs are getting back to strength and my stamina is rapidly improving.  When the trail days come, I will be ready.

The hills are tough to climb, but there is that glorious payback when I get to the top and can turn around and see the incredible beauty of this remarkable place.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ground Golf, Another Fun Thing To Do in Hawai'i

  

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Yes, it's a game.  And it's fun, so there.

Seriously, Ground Golf was invented in Japan, where it is huge.  The game is played mainly by that class of people known as "the elderly," but just because the participants are past their best years, don't think for one moment that there's not some serious competing going on.

Every Wednesday morning, I take my mother-in-law to Blaisdell Park in Pearl City, Hawaii, a lovely piece of greenspace that was once called (and still referred to as) Pearl Harbor Park.  Because it sits on the shore of the forenamed historic body of water.  There, we meet about a dozen of her friends and acquaintances, fellow players.  What follows is actually fairly simple, but complex.

The game is a kind of mix of regular golf and mini-golf.  The equipment required to set up the course is simple and temporary.

The Hole.  And the ball.  In the hole.

One gentleman sets out four "holes" along a pre-measured course.  The hole consists of a flag, a round wire gate that sits on top of the grass.  Suspended in the center is a small piece of resonating metal that makes a pleasant "ting" when the ball strikes it.  The balls are made of either wood or polyurethane, the clubs made of the same.

The club.  Or mallet.  Or...whatever.

The course is set up usually in a park.  If you're lucky and someone has an "in" with the groundskeeper, a lane of very short grass will be provided.

The tee and fairway.
Some of the rest of the course winding among the Monkey Pod trees.

The game is played like golf, in that you set the ball on a tee and whack it towards your target, trying to get there in as few strokes as possible.  The challenges are not all that different from regular golf -- putting with your shoulders instead of your arms, making sure your drawback and swing is straight with the club face perpendicular to the hold when you strike the ball.  And for me, the results are not that dissimilar either, too far left or right, or too short or too long.  Still, there is a feeling of contentment when you ring that bell with a perfect shot, however rare that can be.

Tallying up the scores
Yes, that is my Royals backpack.

Having tried and given up on regular golf, I was reluctant to attempt this, but I was convinced to give it a try.  Fortunately, the course is short and there is a delightful lack of sand or water hazards.  The ground is uneven, of course, and can impart some quirky direction changes.  Also, the folks are friendly, albeit competitive, and all things considered, a wonderful way to spend a tropical morning.

As I said, this is huge in Japan, which is the only place on this planet where you can buy the equipment.  I asked one of the players where and how he got his gear, he shrugged and replied, "Went to Japan, of course,"  I am sad to report that even looking on Google and Amazon produced no real leads.  Also, the clubs are built for Japanese people, and hence a bit too short for us bigger haoles.  Like all sports, there is the equipment for the casual player, and the specialized stuff for the professionals.  Clubs can be had for as little as $10 for a used one, and up to a highly-technical $1,000 magic wand.  But if you can score the equipment and can learn how to set the course up, it can be loads of fun.  Since the game was originally intended for the old folks, anyone can play, including kids.  It's a very social sport, a great way to meet friends.  

It's a game that is virtually unknown outside of Japan and Hawai'i, but it's easy to pick up, easy to play, and loads of fun.. But good luck finding the gear.

Age and Surrendering



Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

I have heard that while aging is inevitable, being old is a matter of choice.  It is an aphorism rooted in a perhaps stubborn way of declaring that one won't willingly give in to the dark side of passing years.  But for all the courage inferred, it may also be a bit of useless arrogance.

This has been on my mind since the death of my father some 14 years ago.  He was for my entire life a man of immense dignity and intelligence; one whose commitment to matters moral, ethical, and spiritual made an indelible impression on me, and frankly dwarfs anyone else I've ever known.  But the last two years of his life was a time of heartache for me.  His once-prodigious memory was rapidly fading.  He knew us, but not much beyond that.  Physically, his decline was rapid, to the point where a simple trip to the bathroom involved a small portable crane device.  It's hard to assess how aware he was of these things happening to him, but it's possible that his decline in mental faculties was in fact a small blessing.

Cheryl's mom is approaching 92 years old, and stubborn as the day is long.  She is also having memory problems, mainly involving the humorous aspects of "where did I put that thing?"  She had insisted on continuing to drive until the first week we were here.  She was out doing errands when she got confused, made a wrong turn, and when trying to correct her routing, cut a turn way short and gently nosed into another vehicle waiting at a stop sign.  As accidents go, it was minor -- the airbags did not deploy on either vehicle -- but the incident was enough to put enough fear into her to willingly give up her keys.  Her car is repaired and back in the carport, but still she occasionally makes noise about driving again.

We have a responsibility to keep her from behind the wheel, but she is stubborn personified, and I know there's going to be a day when she just might talk herself into driving somewhere.  We have collected nearly all of the car keys, but there is still one set missing.

We love her dearly, and it is for her own protection that we have to do this.  But I understand, better than she realizes, what it means to surrender her independence piece by piece.  I know my memory is beginning to be a struggle, and I know it is inevitable that one day I, too, will have to give up my keys.  In one respect, I dislike getting to this age because I can now clearly see the pace and path of my deterioration.  Unlike Mom, I have had a host of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and the early signs of arthritis.  I won't make 92.  I might make 80 and while that is 17 years yet to come, I know how quickly the last seventeen flashed by.  Isaac Asimov wrote, "Life is pleasant; death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome."

I don't fear death.  Thanks to a powerful experience coinciding with the placement of my first stent, I know what awaits me across that  great last divide, and when the time comes I will head that way with absolutely no fear and more importantly, no regrets.  But what scares me is the span of time from now to then.  I know helpless, hopeless,  mindless seniors existing in a kind of non-existential fog; their bodies unable to help them stand or walk, or even attend to basic human plumbing needs. 

Let me be frank:  I don't want to be that guy.  I don't want to see the hurt looks on the faces of my grandkids when they realize that Grampa doesn't recognize them anymore.  I don't want to be helpless, and I don't want to become a burden either to my family or the employees of some care facility.  I want to be me as long as I possibly can, and then depart this life with the sudden finality of a light switch.

But really, I do know this is not about what I want; it's about what will be.  And to quote Harry Chapin, "How I'd love to find I had that kind of choice again."  If I survive that long, the day will come when I will be helpless and possibly mindless.  That I won't know or even be aware of my situation is of no solace.

Despite the inevitable, I still have several years of life left, maybe, just maybe I'll live long enough to see the Kansas City Chiefs in the Superbowl once again.

Like I said, maybe.

But life, in the final analysis, is time to be, time to do, and opportunity to accomplish.  I will do my best to live and enjoy the life I have left, and the brain and body that remains.  It is not my time to waste.  It is the final gift, one that I will tear open with great impatience.

All I ask, really, is a good time and an empty bucket list.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Making Angels in a Paradise Sky


Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

These are the dog days of summer in Hawai'i, when the cooling northeast trades die away and the humidity rises with the afternoon heat.  In any other place, one could look to the calendar and assume that the cool of autumn lies just over the horizon.  But here, the weather really doesn't change all that much.  I've often said that you could tape record the weather forecast, replay it every day and you'd be accurate at least 310 days of the year.  The biggest difference between winter and every other season is the increased rainfall, and slightly cooler temperatures.  But if you didn't grow up here, you might not even notice the change.  

Being closer to the equator, the sun is far more direct, and many a visitor has suffered the painful indignity of sunburn as a result.  Also, if you come here from a more temperate climate, you might find the heat and humidity to be an annoyance.  But iff you live in a place like this long enough, your skin pores begin to open up, and thus you become acclimatized at least to a point.  A normal day which would be uncomfortable anyplace else, becomes simply normal.

When the sun begins to slide behind the Wai'anae Mountains, and if the winds are blowing at all, the air begins to cool down nicely.  Not October in Denver nice, but still...  All homes here are of single-wall construction with no insulation.  But they still tend to retain a lot of heat even after the sun goes down.  Even with fans, a living room in Honolulu is not the most comfortable place to be.  

Cheryl and I have taken to spending the evenings out on the back patio to escape the still-uncomfortable heat inside the house.  We set up our chairs in that spot where the breeze wafts through between the house and the back fence.  There we talk, read, write, cogitate, or just vegetate as allow the breeze to make us more comfortable.  

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Forgotten Day

Yep...204 years young
Key's original penned manuscript
Maryland Historical Society

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

September 14th will slip by this year without much notice, not surprising given the drama in Washington and the landfall of two hurricanes, one in North Carolina and another in Hawai'i.  But on that morning in 1814 on board a British warship, an American lawyer, detained by the British, witnessed a heart-stirring sight that inspired the poem that eventually became our National Anthem.

Two years into the War of 1812, British from September 13-14, 1814 conducted a night-long bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, the prelude to an assault on the Port of Baltimore, and an attack on the city itself.  Key and a friend had been detained aboard the British flagship after pleading for the release of an American physician on the strength that he had treated wounded British soldiers and sailors as well as Americans.  While aboard, the two Americans were present during the pre-invasion staff conference where they heard the complete plans for the operation, hence the detention.

Rain and fog moved in, but the barrage was conducted despite the lowering weather.  As daylight faded, the last thing Key saw was the small "storm flag" stars and stripes fluttering from the converted ship's mast over the fort.  All night long, the British cannons thundered away.  Estimates of the number of rounds expended run into the thousands.  At times, air bursts allowed brief glimpses of that tattered flag still flying, signifying that the vital fort was still in American hands.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9/11/18



Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

It is a quiet, peaceful morning.  Outside my window the twittering of birds is occasionally counterpointed by the mournful sound of a dove.  In one way, it is the calm before a powerful storm, set to arrive early tomorrow morning.  But it is not just a day of preparation.  It is also a day of remembrance.

Seventeen years ago on another beautiful Tuesday morning, men, consumed by hate and twisted by an ideology that made a religion of peace into an excuse to kill, flew airliners into buildings in New York City and Northern Virginia.  A fourth aircraft dove into an abandoned strip mine in the Pennsylvania countryside, as a group of ordinary people, passengers and crew, fought back.  2,996 innocent people died that day, and in the years since, over 1,400 first responders have died, apparently poisoned by the rubble they worked so hard to remove.

The calendar calls today "Patriot Day" A Day of Service and Remembrance."  And there will be ceremonies in New York, at the Pentagon, and at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  They will not get the attention and focus as in years past.  As the sage once said, "Time moves in one direction, memories in another."  Children born that year will graduate high school come springtime.  For them and millions more, it is not the searing memories, but the colder, less personal readings of history through which they will remember.  

Time has, in some ways, closed the open wound we suffered.  But the scar that remains has already begun to fade.  Today, politicians and pundits will use 9/11 to launch new attacks against each other, urging and manipulating the rest of us to embrace their hate and anger, and join the ever-widening divide.  The sun will set today on a nation wrapped in mutual loathing, divided perhaps beyond redemption

Monday, September 10, 2018

Round Two for Paradise


Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Between August 22 and 28, Hurricane Lane battered the Hawai'ian island chain with high winds and record rainfall, ranging from 52 inches on the Big Island to just under 10 on O'ahu.  People are still digging out and the soil remains saturated.  Now, some two weeks later, the state is once again bracing for the onslaught of a major storm.

Hurricane Olivia, as of this morning, is about 650 miles from Honolulu.  Still rated a Category 1 with sustained winds of 85 mph, it is expected to weaken into a strong tropical storm by the time it begins to affect the islands.  A tropical storm warning has been issued for the islands of Hawai'i and Mau'i, and a TS watch for O'ahu.  The storm will begin to affect the state Tuesday, with high winds and heavy rainfall.  While not as much as Lane, it will nonetheless be an an unwanted 15" to 20" addition to areas on the Big Island that experienced some 52 inches of rain less than two weeks ago.  

Governor David Ige has declared a state of emergency and local and state officials are urging residents to prepare.  Working at Target last night, I did see a slight increase in water purchases, but considering that folks really stocked up for Lane, it seems as if everyone is about ready.  The only task remaining is to remove loose items from around the houses and properties.  For this island, the forecast is 40 mph winds and 4" to 8" of rain.  Mau'i and The Big Island may get as much as 20" of rain.  Complicating matters is that the storm has slowed from 15 knots to around 8 knots and is expected to slow even more, which means that the effects of the storm will linger much longer, increasing the risk of flash flooding and landslides.

Now this situation is passing almost undetected by the rest of the country because a truly monster storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall in the Carolinas as a strong Category 4, perhaps even a Cat 5, affecting an area ranging from Georgia to Washington DC.  The storm will push inland, bring torrential flooding rains as far as the Ohio Valley.  Tens of millions are in the threat cone for this storm, and since the media capitols are all in that area, Florence will occupy the nation's attentions.  But while Olivia is a far less powerful system, it is nonetheless poised to impose significant damage to Hawai'i.  

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Aloha as a Home



Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

Tomorrow marks the end of our first week in Honolulu, and as in all moves, this has been a time of transition.  We arrived last Wednesday after a six-hour flight from Seattle, anxious to finally get off a plane knowing that we wouldn’t have to board another one the next day.  Our seven suitcases and one box, all carefully balanced to stay below the 50-pound limit, arrived with us and the five boxes we had sent on ahead were here waiting for us.  Our car had arrived on time, despite the presence of Hurricane Lane and Cheryl’s oldest sister picked us up at the airport using our Santa Fe, and thank goodness she did because we needed every cubic inch of space to load our stuff.

I guess the first thing I noticed was the weather.  Honolulu Airport is different in that the walkways from the gates to baggage claim are open to the outside air, which while warm and humid, is still pleasant thanks to the northeast trade winds.  I’m pretty sure the Hawai’i tourism folks had a say in that particular architectural choice.  Of course, once I started humping luggage out of the terminal and into the car, I sweated up pretty quickly.

When we arrived at the home of Cheryl’s mom, with whom we’ll be staying during our sojourn here, she came out to greet us, small, thin, fragile, but still a dynamo of stubborn energy despite her nearly 92 years.  It was good to see family again, and looking at Cheryl, I could see the joy and happiness written in her countenance.  She was home.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Perfect Evening


Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

It was our last night in Denver, the inevitable closing of one set of doors.  Earlier in the day we had flown in from Maryland after tending to some grandparent duties with the East Coast branch of the family.  We were in the home of our youngest daughter, Jamie, having spent most of the afternoon and evening culling through the eight suitcases that constituted most of what we still owned in the world that was still mobile.  We had Chinese take-out, my favorite cuisine and were sitting around, just talking.  Cheryl was getting some tech help from Jamie when Jamie asked me to take her dog, Neil, out for a walk.  Having spent much of the previous three weeks NOT walking, I eagerly assented.  Clicking the leash onto the collar of a happy Neil, we headed out. 

It had been a beautiful day, and the air as we stepped off the porch was delightfully cool and crisp, a welcome change after swampy Maryland.  It was a reminder that fall was approaching, and I was feeling a little disappointed that I would not be around to see, hear, and feel what has always been my favorite season.  The sun had gone already, but the sky still held the vestiges of its dying rays.  Summer skies are different, in that during winter, when the sun goes away, the night moves in rapidly, the blackness taking quick possession.  But during the summer, sunset begins a longer transition.  The bright blue gives way slowly to a darker shade eventually becoming a soft purple.  As the color deepens, the stars and planets begin to appear, one by one, as if they were reluctant to share the stage with each other, the pinpoints of light begin to shine. 

This long, purple twilight has a purpose for summer days are hard to release.  There is so much life in that season, not just in nature, but in each other.  Children play in the gathering dusk until their mothers judge that the day is over, and they must return inside.  Accompanying the delicate end of the day, in the trees, grass, and bushes, crickets begin to chirp.  Like the stars, it begins individually, one here, one there.  Then the entire choir joins the chorus. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Culture, Weather, and Getting Acclimated


Oh yeah...

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

So, this sojourn we are on has us hopping time zones as we zig back and forth.  We left Denver on the 14th and flew to Maryland.  That's two time zones.  Then we flew back to Denver for about 18 hours. That's two back the other direction. Tomorrow at around oh-dark-thirty, we'll crawl on yet another airliner and hop four more time zones to Honolulu.  When I was younger, this kind of thing would completely scramble my internal clock, leaving me with sleepy days and sleepless nights.  But this time, I am aided by that peculiar time zone that always accompanies us senior citizens.  It really doesn't matter where we are, or when we are, we're always down for a nap.  Or two.That particular freedom that comes from retirement gives me nap leverage at any time of the day.  I'm old, so I sleep.  So, this particular body is on its own clock which seems to operate in its own dimension of time and space.  Were I still working, this would be its own kind of annoyance.  

Where I am struggling is not with the clock, but with the climate.  When we left Denver, it was warm and very, very dry.  When we exited the terminal at Baltimore-Washington International we walked into a totally tropical air mass; warm and very humid, the kind where you break a sweat just getting the keys out of your pocket.  The two weeks on the east coast were repetitious cycles of heat and humidity, except for two really nice days.  This morning I humped suitcases out of our son's house and once they were packed into his mini-van, I was ready for another shower.  But upon arrival back in Denver, we walked out into a day in the low seventy's with low humidity, about as perfect a day as one could ask for.  

Tomorrow we leave for Honolulu where it will once again be warm and humid.  My wife reminds me, "But the trade winds are always blowing," which in my experience is kinda the same thing as describing a Phoenix summer as "dry heat."  The thing is, if you stay their long enough, the skin pores open up and those conditions feel really nice.  Not as nice as a crisp October day in the lower 48 mind you, but still nice.  Acclimatization is a process for every place, though.  Coming to Denver for the first time some 20 months ago, we had to adapt to the altitude.  That took about six months of being chronically short of breath and dealing with some edema as well.  But once that was done, we really didn't notice the effect in our daily routines.  Where it showed  up for me was in hiking.  The first trail I did here involved a 700-foot ascent from a parking lot to a flat-topped mesa.  What had been a simple thing in Virginia darned near killed me here. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Age and the Downward Spiral of Time


Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

That age is best which is the first
When youth and blood are warmer
But being spent, the worse, and worst,
Times still exceed the former.
--Robert Herrick

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

They are curious, these feelings that drift through me these days, and it has been a challenge to sort them out.  In this transition time between Colorado and Hawai'i, we find ourselves at a church camp situated on the banks of the West River in eastern Maryland.  The scene is gentle and tranquil, and genuinely pretty.  It is a place where expensive homes stand in splendor along the river's twisting course leading out to the broad reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, the homes overlooking a sizable fleet of equally expensive sailboats.  Despite the trappings of the one per centers, it is a place of peace and contemplation.

The first night here during the de rigueur "get to know ya" exercise, I was asked, "where do you live?"  Always an easy one to answer, but this time I came up empty.

Denver is officially in our rear view mirror.  Honolulu still lies just over a two-week horizon, so in a very real sense, we are sans domicile.  Homeless, in other words.  We are on the road, but it is a strange feeling to not have a place to call home.

There is a positive aspect to this situation for us.  We are out of debt, save a car loan (the object of which is on it's way to the Port of Honolulu), thus our financial situation is as secure as its ever been.  Once there, our income will be freed up to accomplish two goals, fill our our rather skinny retirement accounts, and re-establish our emergency fund, three to six months of income.   Having sold or donated almost everything we own, we are no longer laden by thousands of pounds of household possessions.  What we have left, in a closet in Aurora and a small 4x4 storage unit, is substantially less than a thousand pounds which will be re-located at that as-yet undetermined point in time when we finally decide where to settle down.  Our options are freed up now and we can go wherever, whenever, and for however much time we choose.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Voyaging Without a Home Port


"Together we're in this relation ship,
We built it with care to last the whole trip,
Our true destination's not marked on any chart,
We're navigating for the shores of the heart."
--John Duhan

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

This situation, technically speaking, might be described as "on the brink."  It's Saturday, and we leave Tuesday, not for vacation, but quite possibly forever.  We go to Maryland for two weeks of delightful grandparent duty.  We do come back to Colorado after that, but only for about 16 hours, a "cup o' coffee" in the old baseball parlance.  After that pause, we board another jet bound for Hawai'i and the next chapter of our lives.  

Of course we've been there.  Cheryl is a bona fide Kama'aina, and we lived there for five years of Navy duty.  Plus, we've been back for visits more times than we could accurately enumerate.  But this time feels different, very much like being between two doors, one closing, and the other opening.

We haven't really been in Colorado all that long, having actually lived here for 12 out of the 20 months since I retired.  Still, it's been a good stay.  We've been with family, two daughters and their families, two grandkids, two granddogs, and one grandkitty.  We found a church home that is very hard to say goodbye to.  And as the time winds down, I am sorta vexed by the thoughts of all the things I wanted to do here, but somehow never got done.  There was always tomorrow, until I ran out of tomorrows.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Moving, Furniture, and Letting Go


Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It's always a shock when that wily beast known as "times have changed" jumps right up in your grill.  The effect is instant disorientation, and finally, that sense of loss.  

In preparation for our move to Hawai'i, we decided not to keep our household goods in storage.  It seemed easy enough to say, "we'll just sell it all."  As is often the case, easy to say is very hard to do.  What we had was that same mix of large and small that every homeowner acquires over decades.  I finally parted with a lot of those things I had hauled around in boxes for the last two or three decades.  Some got sold, some donated, some just thrown away, albeit reluctantly and painfully.  But those decisions have been much easier to make this time around as our backs are figuratively against the wall.  I wasn't worried about the furniture.  It is excellent quality, the marker of our decision to pay more to get more.  As the days have passed however, it would appear that the time of "big furniture" has passed us by.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Road Never Traveled. Until Now.


"We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things,
because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
--Walt Disney

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It's been over a month since I last "penned" some words here.  And there have been some changes.  Back in April, mainly out of boredom, I returned to the workforce, hiring on at a local Target (or Tahrjey as they say).  I actually scouted the store, as I did with about eleven other businesses that were hiring.  What I noticed right away was how happy the workforce was.  They seemed genuinely glad to be there.  Everybody was working hard, not just the going-through-the-motion stuff I was seeing with other companies.  When I asked for help, instead of that bit of hesitation that spoke wordlessly "Can't you see I'm busy?" they were eager to help, and seemed genuinely concerned that my Target experience was a good one.  The place was clean and well ordered.  Now, all of these things spoke volumes to me about a very positive management philosophy that spread good feelings all the way through the workforce.  It was, in my view, the best place to work.  Now, almost three months later, my experience has confirmed my analysis.

It doesn't pay a whole lot, even though its well above the minimum, but what has been valuable has been the opportunity to interact with people again.  

Any writer will tell you that they are very interested in people's stories; what's happening in their lives, how they feel about things, and where they see themselves on the journey of their lives.  I didn't realize how much I had missed that.  I've had many warm and positive interactions with the customers, or "guests" in Target lingo.  And I've heard some amazing stories.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fathers Day


"I'm a father.  That's what matters most.
Nothing matters more."
--Gordon Brown

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

I remember clearly the first time I held our first newborn.  I was in awe at the power of life as it lay cradled in my arms, and feeling absolutely unqualified for the task that lay ahead.  I remembered my Dad, and how easy he made fatherhood seem.  He was always confident and resolute.  Never once did I ever see him unsure of anything.  His decisions were perfect, and he always had the right words and the correct solutions.  He was a man of immense dignity and a commanding presence that was always in the house, even when he wasn't.  I thought about all that as my new son stared up at me, and hoping that I would be to him at least a fraction of what my Dad was to me.  

Fathers have a compelling influence on their children's lives.  That's the way it's supposed to be.  For a girl, if she does not get the attention, affection, and support from her father, she will later look for that in other men, in very destructive ways.  Much of the confidence a young woman has will have been instilled by her father.  And when she chooses a young man, chances are he will have some of her father in him.  It is interesting to note that Robert E. Lee had three daughters, none of whom married.  As one said much later, "None of them, in terms of character, courage, and inner strength came close to father."

Boys grow up (although some women would dispute that) and at some point, we become men.  That moment of transition is different for all of us.  For me, it wasn't graduating high school, leaving home to be on my own, or even getting married.  In that moment in the presence of my infant son, for whose life I was now totally responsible, I realized that my childhood was over.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Facing Life's Consistency of Change


"If you fall off of a cliff without a parachute,
there's nothing left to do but enjoy the breeze 
and admire the view on the way down."
--Ralph F. Couey

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey 

I've been retired now for about a year and a half, and looking back, I can see what a significant time of transition it has been.  Northern Virginia had been home for about five years as I finished out my career.  While we hated the traffic and the incessant political miasma that permeated everything, I did find for myself a certain kind of peace.

We had family close by, in fact sharing our home for over three years.  It was never anything but a joy to have them around, especially the golden hours spent bonding with three of our grandchildren.  My work, while difficult and challenging, was a source of great satisfaction.  I was privileged to work around some of the finest and most intelligent, dedicated, and committed professionals it's ever been my honor to know.  So when it became apparent that in terms of ending that profession, the moment had arrived, it was accompanied by a certain sadness and the feeling of leaving something important undone.

The time between then and now has been filled by a whole new set of experiences.  Accompanying my wife on her travel nurse assignments to the biting cold of a Colorado winter, the incredible heat of a summer in southern Arizona, to a delightful sojourn in Southern California.  I've returned to the workforce, donning the red and khaki for Target.  My body rebelled at the long hours spent on my feet, but eventually adjusted to a certain level of tolerance.  The best part of that experience, alongside the extra income, has been the opportunity to converse with people; listen to them tell of their lives.  I have with great interest spoken to high school graduates who were ending their childhood and preparing to embark on the first real adventure of their lives, and their first years as adults standing on their own.  I've also seen the joy of their parents as they revel in their children's accomplishments, yet feeling the wistful sadness of the knowledge that they've done all they could do to prepare their offspring and must now let go.  They will no longer be under their constant supervision, care, and protection and must rely on their faith in these new adults to get them through the coming challenges.

It is time of transition for many, reminding us that as much as we resist it, change really is the only constant in life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

It's All About the Hate

© 2018 Phil Mislinski/Getty

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

"We become slaves the moment we hand the keys
to the definition of reality entirely over to someone else."
--B. W. Powe
"Towards a Canada of Light"

We are seeing here in 2018 an unprecedented surge in school shootings.  As of May 25th, there have been 23 shooting incidents.  This is week 21 of 2018, thus they are happening at a rate of more than one per week.  Forty-four people have been killed and sixty-six wounded, a total of 110 casualties.  To call this a tragedy is a vast understatement.  The threats to children from abuse, drugs, terroristic bullying and other less easily definable causes are bad enough.  To take away what once was the sanctuary of the schoolhouse makes their lives harder by an order of magnitude.  The reaction of the public, fueled by activist media and agenda-driven politicians and pundits, has been one of shock, horror, and despair.  The political left has unleashed a wave of anti-gun activism.  By all accounts, the National Rifle Association and its political allies are under siege to an unprecedented degree.

But in the space of time in the city of Chicago, 1,012 people have been shot, including nearly 40 victims over the three days of the Memorial Day holiday.  That is 50 shootings per week, or more than seven per day.  If you go back to the beginning of 2016, the number of shooting victims is now over 8,000.  That is, on average, 64 victims per week; over nine per day.  According to Chicago PD stats, over two-thirds of those incidents have been cases of African Americans shooting other African Americans.  Gun laws have proven ineffective because many of those shooters are already legally banned from owning or possessing weapons.  Yet, they still are able to arm themselves.

The media and public response?  Dead, cold silence.

Where are the activists?  Where is the gun control lobby?  Where is the national outrage?  

Why don't those Black Lives Matter?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Another Year Older, Another Year...

From Pinterest.com

"There's still no cure
for the common birthday."
--John Glenn


Today was my birthday, number sixty-three to be exact.  It was a quiet, mostly ordinary day.  I got up, went to work, came home and went out for Chinese, my favorite cuisine.  I had some gifts, had "Happy Birthday" sung to me by my grandkids, and now in the waning hour of this day, I am doing what I like to do when searching for thoughts that would provide context:  writing.

As kids, birthdays are a huge deal.  Parties, cake, presents, a fun day to celebrate.  As time goes on, however, those days begin to be less than a big deal, particularly when one reaches the time when adding one more day means there are fewer to come.  Everyone is mortal, or as was once said of life, "Nobody's gettin' outta here alive!"  Between birth and death, lie a few thousand days, for most of us.  We grow, we age, we gain a certain amount of wisdom and hopefully not too many regrets.  This is the essence and rhythm of life, a cycle played out billions of times.  A few people will gain great notoriety, even fame.  Most of the rest of us will lead lives that could only be described as "ordinary."  But we are all loved by somebody, a person who will feel the pain of loss at the time of our demise.  So in a sense, we are all made famous, all will be remembered even by just a few.

Knowledge grows over time, and when salted by the pain of adversity, morphs into that curiously nebulous thing called wisdom.  Old people always have opinions on everything.  We feel that if only the rest of the world would listen, all the problems will be eliminated.  But such entreaties fall on the deaf ears of those youngsters who, alas, are just as we were back then.  Arrogant, cocky, and absolutely sure that they know more than anyone else.  It is a cruel trick of time that at the point when we've gained enough information and understanding to make everything work, nothing else does.

But today I spent some time thinking about where I've gone and what I've done.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mom's and Mother's Day

 © Breezy Brookshire
Breezy Tulip Studio

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all."
--Proverbs 31:25-29

Have we ever wondered a mother's silent cries?
Her struggles, her fears, her worries?
Have we ever thought of the sacrifices
she has done to make our lives happier,
and her dreams cut short
to make our dreams come true?
--Ama H. Vanniarachchy

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

As Mother's Day was approaching, I had time to speak with the moms that came through my check lane at Target.  I was amazed to hear of the number of them who had given birth either on Mother's Day or a few days either side.  I counted 26 of them over the three days prior to the holiday.  As we talked, they told me how special that day had been, the ultimate Mom's Day present.  But they also talked about how those birthdays began to overwhelm the holiday, and I could sense that they felt a little left out.  But they were all quick to add "But, that's okay.  It's a treat to see my kid having fun."

The life of a mother is one of endless sacrifice.  It is a tribute to their selfless nature, but also a reminder to the rest of us to look, really look, at what they do day in and day out.  A mother's love is one of those rare and beautiful things that will always be there as sure as the sun in the morning, and the stars at night.  

It starts at the very beginning.  Most women will tell you that pregnancy ruins their body.  Multiple pregnancies do even more damage over time.  Some will suffer ailments related to various vitamin and mineral deficiencies because their body's resources are being diverted to the tiny life they carry within.  Once the baby is born, the real sprint begins.  Most of the rest of us expect them to be up and around after a few days and back to taking care of the rest of us.  I suspect there is a kind of guilt in the mom herself, knowing that even as she recovers, the house still needs to be cleaned, dinners still need to be made, other kids (and husbands) to care for, and then there's their jobs -- the paying ones.

The vital Perspective of the Long View


It is not the present from which 
we will learn the truth of right or wrong.
It is rather from the verdict of history
which lies beyond the influence 
of passion and familiarity.
-- Ralph F. Couey

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

One of my favorite books has always been Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain, his bio-science thriller from 1969.  Crichton has a way of weaving science fact into very entertaining story telling, leaving the reader (at least in this book) wondering if it really happened.  In the story, one of the characters, Dr. Peter Leavitt, formulated the Rule of 48.  It refers to the discoveries of the number of chromosomes in a human cell. Since 1923, that number had always been 48. There were a number of careful studies, backed up by photographs.  Then in 1956, another geneticist announced to the world that the number was actually 46, again backed up by studies and photographs.  But when researchers went back to the original 1923 studies and counted, they found not 48, but 46 chromosomes.  Dr. Leavitt's Rule of 48 thus became "All scientists are blind."

This is only one example of a multitude of historical facts once believed to be unassailable truth, which the passage of time has proven to be completely wrong.

The difference between right and wrong is far from absolute.  In the moment, judgement is impaired by emotion, politics, personal bias, and situational elements.  The passage of time puts distance between the event and pragmatic analysis.  Absent those powerful influences, a far more correct conclusion can be rendered.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Re-Discovery of Life

Faces in a crowd,
all with stories to tell.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

In the past month I've made a couple of changes in my life.  Until recently, my days consisted of that curious state known as "being retired."  Each day was pretty much a blank slate, punctuated by the odd appointment or commitment.   I floated from one day to the next, the only regular activity being walking/hiking, and my continued efforts at writing.  But my wife, who knows me better than I know myself, saw that I was stagnating.  And she was right.  I was drained of ideas for writing subjects, and the three books I am working on had shown efforts that could be kindly referred to as desultory.

And truthfully, I was getting bored.

Clearly it was time to pep things up.  Cheryl "suggested" that I go get a job.  The reason I put that word in quotations is that her suggestions are usually synonymous with the force of law.  But she had a good point, so I complied.  In person and online, I submitted about a dozen or so applications, carefully chosen.  One of them was a Target store nearby.  I had gone there several times before, since the pharmacy I use is contained therein.  I remembered, however, that on my visits how impressed I was with the staff.  They all seemed uniformly happy, not only with each other, but to be working there.  Also, I noted that without exception, they all worked hard; nobody was merely going through the motions.  This is one of the clear signs of a positive and supportive management philosophy.  If I was going to have to re-join the workforce, I wanted it to be a good experience.

So one day, while picking up some prescriptions, I went to the computer terminal displaying the sign, "apply here" and filled out the job application.  About a week later, I received a call asking me to come in for an interview.  I showed up wearing slacks, dress shirt, and coat (but no tie), possibly a tad overdressed for a retail job.  Nevertheless, I was warmly welcomed and introduced to a few people.  The interview, really a canned question and answer session, went well.  A week later, I was invited back for another interview, which also went well.  Three days later, they called and offered me the job.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Speech: The Legacy of the Uniform



Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It would be easy for someone like me to stand here and recite platitudes of "Duty, Honor, Country."  It would be just as easy for you to completely ignore or forget those words.  You see, I'm not here as some distant personage.  I'm here as one of you.  I once stood where you are standing today.  I felt then what you are likely feeling today, impatience to get this thing over with, your anxiousness to see your loved ones who have traveled so far to be with you and see how far you have come in the arduous nine-week journey you have just completed.  I also have no doubt that many of you are imagining in great detail the marvelous taste of the first cold beer you've had in over two months.  Hoist 'em high, shipmates!  You've earned it.

As I indicated, I won't speak in soaring language today.  Instead, I will speak of the realities that await you as you leave for the fleet.

I offer you my congratulations upon your graduation from Recruit Training.  As you may have seen not everyone who arrived here back then is still standing here today.  I know that the pride you feel in your hearts is shared by your family and friends who are here, and those who could not make the trip.  I'd like you to look back for a moment at the tough moments.  Those PT tests, damage control training, fire fighting, all the long days and short nights.  Remember the frustration, the anger, the bouts of loneliness and homesickness.  Today, all that is behind you.  Your Company Commander won't yell at you or correct you, because they are standing here today, bursting with pride at your accomplishment.  The strangers who you were thrown in with have survived this all with you, sharing the hardship and the joy.  You are strangers no longer.  You are more than friends.  You are shipmates now, and will be for life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Nudge to the National Anthem




Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

The "Star Spangled Banner" has been the officially designated National Anthem of the United States since resolved by Congress in 1931. It was authored by a young lawyer, Francis Scott Key during a night-long bombardment of Fort McHenry.  The barrage was the prelude to an assault on the Port of Baltimore, and an attack on the city itself.  Key and a friend had been detained aboard the British flagship after pleading for the release of an American Doctor on the strength that he had treated British soldiers and sailors as well as Americans.  While aboard, the two Americans were present during the pre-invasion staff conference where they heard the complete plans for the operation, hence the detention.

Rain and fog moved in, but the barrage was conducted despite the lowering weather.  As daylight faded, the last thing Key saw was the small "storm flag" stars and stripes fluttering from the converted ship's mast over the fort.  All night long, the British cannons thundered away.  Estimates of the number of rounds expended run into the thousands.  At times, air bursts allowed brief glimpses of that tattered flag still flying above the fort, signifying that it was still in American hands.  

As dawn approached, the bombardment tapered off.  The smoke from the shelling and the fog began to clear.  In that lull, the soldiers defending the fort (miraculously, none were killed) hoisted the huge ceremonial flag.  When dawn revealed the large flag flying defiantly over the embattled fort.  Key was overcome with emotion and penned the inspired poem.

There are four verses, five if you count the one added by Oliver Wendell Holmes during the Civil War.  The first verse is the one always sung, and the only one anybody really knows.  It is unusual in that it is the only Nation Anthem that ends with a question.  My favorite verse is the fourth one, which goes...

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Keeping Human Interaction Involved With Tech Communications

Communicating while communing.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

About a half a million years ago, humans began communicating through speech, and for the first time were able to communicate ideas and concepts.  It took another 470,000 years before humans began using symbols in cave paintings to record events.  About 10,000 years later, humans began carving into stone instead of just painting, inventing petroglyphs.  Eleven thousand years after that, around 9,000 BCE, pictograms were invented.  These symbols were pictures designed to communicate through drawing.  This developed into cuneiform and hieroglyphs, and then evolved into logographics, where a symbol represented a word or phrase, as in Japanese or Chinese writing, around 5,000 BCE.  

From 1700 BCE through about 1200 BCE, the first alphabets were invented, allowing much more detailed and complex ways to communicate.  Books were first printed during the Tang Dynasty in China, and the oldest known such work is the "Diamond Sutra," which dates to around 868 CE.  Papyrus had been used in Egypt since 2400 BCE, and was used in Greece and Rome.  During the third century BCE, animal skins, known as parchment, was developed as the written medium of choice.  The final copy of America's Declaration of Independence was written on parchment, and as any visitor to the National Archives in Washington DC can attest, such a material has great staying power.

Paper had been made in China as early as 105 CE, but it was the mechanized production of paper in Europe, beginning in the 11th century that made a writing medium cheaper and much more available.  That was followed in 1440 by the invention of the Gutenberg Press, using movable type.  This enabled the first mass-produced best seller, the Gutenberg Bible in 1455.

Monday, April 09, 2018

How Quickly Days Pass, and How Quickly Children Grow

"The Days are long,
but the years are short."
--Unknown

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

They enter our lives in the most amazing and miraculous way, and in that moment when you first hold them in your arms, you realize that the very context and meaning of your life has irrevocably changed. At first it was all about you.  Your desires, wishes, plans, were all more important than anyone else.  Then you found the love of your life and you learned how to share, how to prioritize their needs above your own.  But the day you held that tiny, fragile human in your arms, you realized that this brand-new human being was going to be in charge of your life.

Your career ceased to be about your own promotion, and became the tool for providing a home and the accoutrements of life for your kids.  Almost everything you want to do for yourself now takes a backseat to them.  You deal with changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, and that sudden red alert in your brain that tells you that they've been quiet for too long.

Going anyplace now involves the logistics of diaper bags, toys, and putting them in and taking them out of car seats.  The stroller now lives permanently in the back of your car because their tiny little legs get tired so quickly, and when nap time comes, they go to sleep, no matter where you are or what you're doing.  You recognize a little secret about the laws of gravity.  When kids are asleep, they gain about 15 pounds.  They don't know patience, so when their little lives go awry, the announce their displeasure not only to you, but to anyone within a half-mile, especially on an airliner.

At some point, they discover that they have a will, and begin to exercise it.  There will be those tough moments when you have to teach, and they have to learn just who is in charge around here.  

But even through all that, there are those other times.  Their first smile.  That joyous little laugh.  Those innumerable little cute things they do and say that are engraved forever on your heart.  There are those trips to the park on those perfect, sunny days when your toddler is introduced for the first time to the swing, or the jungle gym, and you watch with happiness tinged with that ever-present protectiveness.  

Then suddenly, years have passed, and it's the first day of school.  Now you have to send them away, and this still small, fragile child will be out of your sight and away from your protective arms for hours every day.  While you like to think you may enjoy these few hours of freedom (usually spent cleaning up the house after them), you still look anxiously towards the clock that tells you the moment when your little scholar steps carefully off the bus and into your care once again.  Eagerly you ply them with questions, anxious to know what transpired in those hours away, and disappointed by the responses so lacking in the details you are so desperate to know.