About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 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.

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.

Time.  That's the only wrench in the gears.  We are both in our 60's and while our health is good, we both know that will not last. At some point our bodies will become enfeebled to the point where we will have to stop roaming and stay put.  That could be sooner or later -- the future being shrouded with nebulous uncertainty.  But the knowledge of that certainty drives our motivations for travel.  We will, in the timeworn phrase, sow wild oats while we can.  

Why we feel this way is something of a mystery.  So many others of our peer group are perfectly happy and content to have established roots, a place where they can always be found.  Their homes are an expression of their personalities and passions.  But they are also a museum, if you will, of their past.  There is a sense of permanence which fills the air and echos from the walls.  Even when they are absent, their sense of presence remains.

We don't have such a place right now, nor the desire to acquire such.  We are oddly okay with that arrangement.  Our "home" it seems is on the road, always on the way from somewhere old and bound for somewhere new.  We have always been restless, anxious to move on to a point beyond the horizon.  We are hooked on the narcotic of adventure; new places, new things.  But always in the background, we hear the clock ticking.  Time is sifting away, and at some point the hourglass will be empty, and then the last great adventure will begin.  We know that time doesn't end here.  We will leave our old and broken bodies behind and our spirits will soar gracefully, blissfully, eagerly to a place where there is no pain, no anger or hate, no judgment...only love, acceptance, and peace.

And there, we will finally put down our roots.

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.

The past month has been an uphill slog of divestiture of furniture and possessions, paring down to a jam-packed small storage unit, a closet at our daughter's home, and whatever we'll (try to) get on the plane.  While emotionally and physically taxing, it has also been cathartic.  We've almost completely freed ourselves of the chains of furniture and housewares (yes, almost), saying goodbye to things we've been hauling around for over 35 years.  You could possibly stretch the play-doh far enough to call us vagabonds.

Our stay in Hawai'i is indeterminate.  Maybe one year, perhaps four, dependent on Cheryl's tolerance of Army Medical Corps bureaucracy, and her mother's tolerance of us in her house.  At the end of that stretch we will have a decision to make, one the resolution of which has thus far eluded us:  Where to retire.

"Home" has a different meaning for us, the result of a lifetime seemingly spent packing and unpacking boxes.  Home for me now is what I describe as "wherever the motorcycle's parked" even though I am currently sans bike.  Hawai'i will always be home to Cheryl emotionally.  She was born there, grew up there, and is where most of her immediate family still lives, including her 91-year-old energizer bunny of a mom.  But we can't afford to retire there, without either a big lottery win, or voluntarily immersing ourselves in abject poverty.  No thanks.  Besides, as she frequently says, "we've already been there."

Our criteria for picking a retirement location is complex.  It has to be affordable.  It has to be tax-friendly to retirees.  The climate needs to be reasonably temperate, somewhere between Arizona summers and Colorado winters.  Good medical care is necessary.  We aren't young anymore.  It needs to be a "happening place" with plenty to do and see, and close to an international airport where we can easily travel from, and be easily traveled to (9 grandkids, ya know).  For us, retirement will not be about sitting around waiting to die.  It has to be safe.  While we support the letter and spirit of Amendment No. 2, we've never lived in a place where we felt compelled to pack heat, and we really don't want to start.  Now, we enjoy our times at the gun range shooting other people's weapons, but having one or two in the house just to feel safe?  Don't think so.

Does such a place exist?  Or are we chasing a mystical chimera?  I've been told that there are such places overseas, but as hateful and angry as things are politically in the United States, we're not ready to turn our backs on our homeland.

Not yet, anyway.

In the end, our choice will be a compromise, what we're willing to concede to the inevitable hard realities.

I don't think there are too many of us who haven't conducted that mind experiment that poses the hypothesis "What if we won the lottery?"  It's part and parcel of our willingness to indulge dreams, even the silly ones.  As we've batted that around between us, the consensus is that we would own several homes in several places and rotate between them, leaving when we are summoned by the seductive call of the open road.  And yes, we've considered the RV thing.

But it's altogether possible that we'll continue on, rootless and unencumbered by debt or possessions (well, mostly anyway) until the inexorable march of time and senescence forces us either into the prison of assisted living, or the end of our mortal existence.  I, for one wouldn't be sad if my last words in this life would be, "Where shall we go next?"

But that choice is not yet upon us.  Right now, life is still about the journey, and the undiscovered adventure that lies just beyond the horizon.  Life is an ocean, love is a boat, and our voyage remains incomplete.

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.

The two pieces that lay at the centerpiece of our lives are both Ethan Allen, a china hutch and a roll top desk.  We acquired them around 1982 when the Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange had an Ethan Allen sale.  We bought them on layaway, and managed to pay them off.  Along with those two items, we also bought a long dining room table with two benches and two Captain's Chairs, the better to feed our growing family.  The table and benches were sold in Missouri.  The chairs we have still.  But the hutch and desk have remained with us, through multiple moves, decorating six different dwellings over those thirty-six years.  The idea of parting with them was painful, but painfully necessary.  

But like a spoiled twenty-something, those two pieces have refused to move on.  As I talked to those who came to our garage sale, I began to realize how times had changed.  When we were young(er), it was considered culturally necessary to have those big hulking pieces of furniture in your home.  To have them was a sign that you knew value and taste, and were willing to extend yourself to have them.  It was also, I think, a sense of permanence, that we had arrived and we were here to stay.

But times and tastes have changed.  You can't sell big honkin' furniture to the Ikea generation.  They're not in to that kind of thing anymore.  One young man who visited the sale (yes, visited), complimented me on the Ethan Allen furniture.  I asked if he was interested, and he replied, "Nah, I'm the Ikea Generation.  If I can't put it together, it's not real furniture."

I was already beginning to suspect this was the case, given the reaction of those who looked and walked away, and the desultory response to multiple social media postings.  It's axiomatic of any marketplace that in order to sell something, somebody has to want to have it.  And that's where I am at this point.  Nobody wants this furniture, thus I can't sell them.

The final default choice was to donate them, but even that has proven difficult.  Most of the organizations who sell donated goods have limits on the size of the items they will accept.  And it appears that these items exceed that size.  That really leaves us in a quandary.  Being furniture, we can't just haul it down to the sidewalk and hang a "free" sign on it.  For one thing, after a bone dry summer, it has been very stormy here in metro Denver of late.  And not just rain, but high winds, lightning, and hail as well.  For the other...well...it just seems to be a tacky thing to do.

So the items have been reposted with the addendum "make offer."  And I have a sneaking suspicion that the only cost benefit we will accrue will be the labor of someone willing to haul the stuff away.  

In a normal situation, I would be sorrowful to lose that furniture.  But this is not a normal situation.  We have to leave Colorado in ten days, and those things, along with everything else that's left, have to go.  There's no choice left.

Since we've been married, Cheryl and I have moved by count 21 times in 40 years, and for most of those moves, the hutch and desk have gone with us.  But that time has passed, and it is time to start again from the ground up as far as furniture goes.  It's a little like parenting in that when the time is reached when you have to say goodbye, you also have to let go.  

I just hope I can find someone to adopt my furniture.


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.

Jenna is 20-something, a bubbly, joyous young lady, but as I spoke to her, she told me that she was a brain cancer survivor.  After an auto accident when she was fifteen, she was being treated for a possible concussion.  But when the MRI results came through, they sent her and her parents straight to a major hospital, where after a round of tests, they were told that she had a tumor in her brain.  Stage IV, they said; a 19% chance of survival.  But Jenna is a person of tremendous faith.  In the brittle silence after the doctor's dark news, she turned to her parents and said, "Mom, Dad, don't worry.  God's got this."

48 hours later, the tumor had shrunk by 75%, and her survival prognosis had soared to 95%.  She still had to endure several rounds of chemo and radiation, but the end result is that she is cancer-free, and celebrating the fifth anniversary of that healing.

Church-going people often talk about faith, but Jenna lived her faith.  The last thing she said to me?  "I never doubted God."  Like those in the Bible who had been touched by Jesus, her faith had healed her.

Then there was the day I offered a Target sticker to a 9-year-old boy, who declined and in a haughty voice said, "I'm too mature for stickers."  Yep. A 9-year-old actually said "mature."  His mother turned and immediately said, "But you're not mature enough to clean your room. Take the sticker."

Lately, I've seen the school-age kids coming through with their moms doing the summer's-almost-over ritual of buying the back to school supplies.  It was entertaining to see the tragic hang-dog expressions on their faces, speaking their inner gloom that summer was almost over and they had wasted the whole thing playing video games.  In contrast, there are the ones who graduated from high school and are headed off to college, that first big adventure of their lives.  They're happy, motivated, and looking forward to the whole adventure.  Meanwhile, at their side stands mom, desperately trying not to cry.  One mom, whose daughter was chattering away about leaving Colorado and going to Boston College, was struggling with a trembling lower lip. She said, "I'm trying to be an adult about this, but I'm just not succeeding."

That's the cruel paradox of parenting.  If you've done your job, and done it well, when your children turn 18, they should be able to stand on their own two feet in the world.  They don't need you anymore, at least not in the way in which you've poured your heart and soul into them for the past 18 years.  In this context, success doesn't bring celebration, but sadness.

There was the grandmother who was living the dream in a house that was only three doors removed from each of her two children and her grandkids.  But that week, she had been told that the daughter was being transferred to Charlotte, and the son to Sacramento.  She was distraught.  I told her to sell her house and belongings, and then plan to spend six months in Charlotte, and six months in Sacramento.  She thought about that, and brightened up.  Sometimes you have to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that each day at work is filled with stories like those, some funny, some sad, some deeply meaningful.  It's been fun.

Now the other thing.

Cheryl finally landed her dream contract, a four-year deal in her home town of Honolulu.  She is delighted, her mother (the original 91-year-old energizer bunny) is ecstatic.  But there have been some logistical mountains to climb. First of all, the 5,000-ish pounds of household goods sitting in the mover's warehouse has been moved back to my daughter's house and put up for sale.  There's just no point in hanging on to stuff for another four years that we probably will never need again.  And no, we haven't decided where to retire to yet.  So, for the last two weeks, we've been going through the stuff already in our daughter's house, and sorting through the mountain of furniture and boxes delivered by the movers.  This week, we began the task of selling.  So far, it's going better than I thought.  A lot of stuff has been sold, and although there's still a ways to go, I can see the top of the mountain appearing in the distance.  

This has meant going through the painful task of saying goodbye to a lot of things we thought we couldn't live without.  When faced by that emotional hesitation, we just remember that we haven't thought about or missed these things for a year and a half. It's time.  Some things we will keep for legal reasons, and others that are just irreplaceable.  For example, I uncovered a box of slides given to me by my father before he died.  I never took the time to got through them until last night.  In that box were photos of me at various stages from a month to 7 years old.  The fascinating thing was that as I looked at my infant face, I could see there bits and pieces of every one of my grandchildren.  It is, I discovered, the true circle of life, the parts of ourselves that are passed to succeeding generations.  

Just before we got the call on Hawai'i, we had committed to watch our grandkids in Maryland while our son and his wife went on an anniversary trip.  So, we leave here on August 14th, return on the 28th, and the very next day board our flight to Honolulu.  Cheryl starts her job on the 30th, so any delays or cancellations will have dire consequences.

What will follow over the next four years is anybody's guess.  The only thing I know...is that I don't know a thing.  The future is impossible to predict because the events of daily life impart twists and turns in that path that point to a plethora of different possible outcomes.  As our circumstances have changed, so will our challenges.  But that's us; we like looking at a horizon, not knowing what lies beyond it.  It is stressful, but change is the only real consistency in our lives, and we have come to embrace the insecurity of that kind of existence.  We thrive on the unknown, and unknowable. Routine is, after all, boring.

In the past few years, we've been shedding chains; the chains of debt, a house, and now possessions, well most of them, anyway.  We feel we are free to chase whatever dream or whim that pops into our minds.  It may well be that when mortality catches up to us, we will remembered by the epitaph, "Well, at least they finally settled down."

But until then, there is a life to be lived.  Clear the decks!  Here we come!

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.

With some exceptions, we idolize our fathers.  Even in those difficult teen years, they are fundamentally vital to our growth.  And when that mantle of fatherhood fell upon our shoulders, we knew the model for which we would follow.  

Children need walls to define proper behavior. They need strong examples of morality and ethics, and the willingness to stand their ground.  They need to know that authority needs to be respected, and there are cultural and societal expectations that must be fulfilled.  Above all, they need to know that life will throw at them some excruciatingly difficult and exquisitely painful moments, which have to be faced head-on.  Dad is the one who teaches these things, and the one who must endure the anger of that malleable soul in order to imprint those most important lessons.  As one who endured such conversations, it is hard to take.  As one who tired to deliver those conversations, they're even harder to give.  

A man is measured by the company he keeps, therefore he chooses his real friends with care. If he associates with men of strong character, high morals and ethics, and unbreakable determination, then he will also be known by these attributes. If he associates with those of dishonest, dishonorable, or even criminal character, then he will be tarred with that same brush. His honor is his most treasured possession and he knows that as his children see the behaviors that he honors in the quality of his associations, they will instinctively strive to emulate those qualities in their relationships. As Thomas Carlyle said, “Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of man you are, for it shows me what your ideal of manhood is and what kind of man you long to be.”

As men, as fathers, we will always be held to a high standard. We must choose to rise to that level and live up to those expectations. None of us live in a vacuum; there are too many others who depend upon us and look up to us and we must earn that trust and that respect.

As I look back on my life as a father, I can see, first off, all the mistakes I made and how they hurt my kids.  I can see with painful regret the many times I put other things, in retrospect unimportant, ahead of my responsibilities to my kids.  I know now that all those years I spent trying to find my identity of self, that I should have looked solely to my children and realized that my most important identity was "Daddy."  That's the trap we walk into all too often.  We think that if we're good at a job and bring home a good paycheck providing food and shelter, and sometimes a few really nice things, that ought to be enough.  We strive continually to achieve professionally, to attain a position of honor and respect in the job, while forgetting that the most important job we will ever have are those young lives we have at home.  Don't get me wrong, money is essential to survival.  But in the final analysis, jobs are temporary.  Children are forever.  Our willingness or failure to remember that will mark their lives for better or worse.  

It's not easy being a father; harder still to be a Dad.  It really is the hardest thing we will ever do.  We have only a short space of time, less than ten years really, to mold them into good people, and it is time that cannot ever be wasted.

If we done this task right, or even mostly right, there will come that Father's Day when we look upon our happy, well-adjusted, and successful children as adults.  And maybe, just maybe, we'll hear from them those magic words...

"Thanks, Dad. You did all right."

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.

For us, another change is in the offing.  Cheryl is in the final stages of landing the contract she has always wanted, an OR assignment in Honolulu.  This won't be the standard 13-week job but a one-year commitment, renewable for the next four years.  She will finish up her working career in the place she has always called home, alongside her beloved mother.

I have been very much "along for the ride" so the change in scenery will be just another facet of the largely nomadic life we've led.  There will be challenges.  For one, it will be necessary for me to find employment in a place where jobs are not easily found.  Also, my love for the changing seasons will be set aside for the monotonous, yet lovely weather in the islands.  

We lived there once before, during my first five years in the Navy, so living on an island is far from a unique experience.  But many other things have changed, both in the locale and in us, so while the location is familiar, the experiences will be new.  Our adaptability will be put to the test.

There is a sense of finality in this situation, as if we both know that the trail of our working lives will be coming to an end over the next two to four years.  We can't stay in Hawai'i; it's simply too expensive, as is our other favorite place, California.  Denver, with the large influx of equity refugees from LA and San Francisco, will also be beyond our financial limits.  I think the hardest part of this whole deal is realizing that we will be forced by circumstances to finally pick a place to settle down.

We've lived in a lot of places, and found things to love about all of them.  But the decision  of picking one place and not moving around anymore is essentially unmake-able right now, so we are relieved to put that one off for at least a couple of years.  The only decision hanging in the air right now is the disposition of that 6,000 pounds of household goods sitting in storage right now.

Financially, we're in decent shape.  Our hard work and discipline over ten years of eliminating debt has put us in a great position, where nearly every penny we earn can be flexibly applied to reinforcing our retirement accounts and rebuilding our savings.  If Cheryl succeeds in keeping me out of Costco for the next four years, we should be fully ready to fund our golden years.  There are no mansions in our future, but I think we'll do better than a single-wide in Arkansas.

Of course, as all generals know, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, and there is still a lot of unknowns and unexpecteds to be dealt with, but we've faced and faced down some near-disasters  in the past and survived.  We are confident in our ability to handle whatever comes up in the near future.

Are there things we would have done different?  Sure.  But we don't carry the baggage of regrets about the past, because the past is...well...past, and can't be changed.  We always look forward.  It is a far better view.

"Once more into the breach, dear friends," as the Bard wrote.  Regardless of what happens, we're still going to enjoy the ride. 

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?

A climate of hate has been created by the adults in this country.  Anger is expressed, sometimes irrationally towards political figures, people of other races or nationalities, or just those who don't agree with a certain viewpoint.  The thing we must remember is that while we have been spewing this anger and hate on television, on radio, in the newspapers, and in our own homes, our children have been listening.

We have taught them how to hate.  We have taught them how to be angry.  We have allowed them to view movies, television, and video games where the only resolution to any problem is violence.  And our children have been watching.  

How can we expect them to learn tolerance when the only thing they hear from us is utter intolerance?

People who hate will find a way to do violence.  Take away the guns, there's always rocks and sticks.  Take away those and tie them into chairs, and they will still hurl vile words at each other.  The hate fuels the violence.  Part of the solution is clear:  End the hate, end the violence.

The most egregious part of this tragedy is how political activists have been using these incidents for fodder.  They are fundraising over the graves of dead children, and nobody seems to mind.

As with anything else in 21st century America, the stench of partisan politics has clouded the facts, and has prevented any real rational solutions from even being considered.  

The NRA still refuses to take a stand on those technologies that turn single-shot weapons into tools of mass-murder.  Bump stocks, large-capacity magazines, an institutional resistance to background checks, and one can still find online kits to convert a single-shot weapon to fully automatic.  NRA members say that any attempt to regulate guns is the beginning of legislative creep that will lead to the eventual repeal of the 2nd Amendment.  Their blind allegiance to that cause leads them into positions that defy rational thought, even a sense of public responsibility.  That none of the many mass shooters have ever been proven to be NRA members doesn't seem to matter.

The right is not alone in this.  As the situation in Chicago has demonstrated, the left selectively applies their activism.  They virtually ignore incidents where mass shootings have been stopped or prevented through the use of guns by private citizens or law enforcement.  They are loathe to criticize incidents or situations where their party comes under scrutiny.  Chicago has been solidly Democrat for more than two centuries.  The current mayor is a former Clinton Administration official.  And yet he has been given a free pass on the violence in his city.  In the city of Denver, one can walk by homes bearing yard signs, one which says "Hate has no home here," alongside another that states "End Trump."  It can only be assumed that hate is okay with these people as long as it is directed at Republicans.

The shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in Florida could have been prevented.  In the months prior to that terrible day, Nikolas Cruz's violent tendencies had been brought to the attention of school officials, local law enforcement, and the FBI some 44 different times.  This egregious failure to act proactively was, in this writer's opinion, politically motivated.  

The school officials who could have acted are Democrats.  The Broward County Sheriff is a Democrat.  In both cases those parties escaped any blame or responsibility.  The FBI failed to act, and they were not criticized because Democrats were unwilling to upset the still-empty evidentiary applecart of the investigation into alleged collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.  Democrats have shown that the only time their activism shows is when something can be blamed on the other side.  This puts them into the irrational situation of decrying mass shootings in schools while ignoring the slaughter of people in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Baltimore, New York, and other major cities.

Adding to the problem of prevention is that if someone is suffering from a mental disease or defect and has not been referred for evaluation and treatment, whose obvious problems have been ignored by those around them, then there is no legal way to prevent them from obtaining a gun and ammunition.  Nikolas Cruz is an easy and obvious example.  That few of his classmates were surprised or shocked when his identity was released speaks volumes about the willful blindness of school and law enforcement officials who had plenty of warning.

Violence is a tool of hate.  Unless we stop the hate, the violence will continue to increase.  If we continue to demonstrate to our children that selective hate is acceptable; that the only way to resolve disputes is through violence, and that the extent of someone's culpability is limited by their political affiliation, that support of a constitutional amendment overrides public safety, then we sow the seeds of their distorted view of life.  As long as we blindly accept what the leaders of our political movements tell us is absolute truth, we feed the lies, and propagate the hate.  And if politicians and pundits are not held accountable for the truth by their own constituencies (read: us), then they will lie, and will do so with enthusiasm and without conscience.

If we truly want to end the violence, then it cannot start with activism; it cannot start with legislation; it cannot be left to politicians.  It must...repeat must...begin with us; you and me.

Let us act together, not as political lemmings, but as We the People, independent of activists, acting on our own sense of unity and a mutual desire to bring peace to this torn and tattered landscape.

Let us all work together to return schools to the sanctuary of peace and safety they were always meant to be.

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."

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.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Ready for Roots? Maybe...

Chantilly, VA

Somerset, PA

Columbia, MO

Some of the places we've called home.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

"This entire time I've been thinking about where my home was.  
But in truth, home isn't necessarily where you sleep at night.
It's where you feel like yourself, where you're most comfortable.
Where you don't have to pretend.
Where you can just be you."
--Elizabeth Eulberg

Late in December 2016, we sold our home in Chantilly, Virginia in anticipation of my pending retirement the following month.  Northern Virginia is an expensive place to live and I was concerned about continuing to make the mortgage payment.  Plus, we had been considering for several years the possibility of Cheryl becoming a travel nurse.  Essentially that means she would work a series of 13 week contracts as we hopped across the country.  Part of the motivation was that we really didn't know where we wanted to plant our feet in retirement.  Las Vegas had been our default choice for a while, but problems in the housing market along with rising rates of violent crime in Sin City pushed it to the less-than-desirable side of the list.  By doing this contract work, we could visit various places and..."try them on for size," hoping that one would emerge as a good fit.

Now, fifteen months later, we still don't know where we want to live.  Our daughter and her husband graciously allowed us to use their home in the 'burbs of Denver between jobs.  Here, we have family, and we found a congregation that felt like home from the first day we walked through the doors.  Central Colorado is a pretty place, and while the home prices are at the near tip of our affordability index, there are other considerations.  We haven't adapted all that well to the altitude.  Whenever we go to a doctor, we are told that our O2 sats are low and we are chronically dehydrated.  It seems that for all this sky out here, there just isn't enough air in it for us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Baseball: The Game and the Spirit

From Shutterstock.com

"There are only two seasons:
Winter and Baseball."
--Bill Veeck

In February, most places in this country are in the throes of winter.  The air is cold, the days are short, and for some reason, the most ferocious snowstorms usually start rolling in about then.  We are fed up with winter and wish it would just go away.  Then one day, we here on the television or on the radio we hear the first real hopeful words:  Spring Training.

Our minds start to drift to sun-splashed fields in Arizona and Florida where the sun shines warm on the shoulders of young men as they stretch winter-weary muscles and minds, living for what is many others, the dream.  Gradually across the rest of the country, winter begins its final retreat.  The days are getting longer, the air warmer.  In parks, back yards, and in streets people once again fall in love with the intoxicating smell of horsehide and cow leather.  You can begin to hear the crack of wood bats and the plink of aluminum.  The grass is turning green under the feet of players racing across its surface.  And as spring rescues hope from winter, the game of baseball brings joy to the soul.

It's hard to quantify or to articulate that feeling, the realization that baseball is not just a game, but a spiritual experience as well.  The days are long and warm, and a game only ends when somebody wins.  There are over a dozen games in history that have lasted over 20 innings and seven hours, and every season, there will be two teams who will lock up in such a marathon, neither side giving in.  The opposite is true of football, played in the time of year when days are growing shorter.  That game is controlled by a clock, and the tension of that passage of seconds is felt throughout the contest.  Football does have overtime, but only one quarter.  If things are not resolved by then, it goes into the books as a tie.

There are no ties in baseball.  It is an eternal contest.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Word "Cute" As a Foreign Language

From JustFab.com
So, I Googled "Cute Shoes."  
This is what I got back.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

It's always been apparent that men and women spoke different languages, even before the ground-breaking book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" by Dr. John Gray.  It's not just individual words, but entire sentences or paragraphs that can mean one thing to one party, and something completely different to the other.  Our brains are wired in completely different ways and the failure to understand that can result in some very uncomfortable situations.  

Every husband has been through this conversation:  

"Honey, are you okay?"
"Fine." (A word more spat than spoken)
"Okay, what did I do this time?"
"Nothing."  (Same delivery.)

What she has said is this:

"There is very definitely something very wrong here, and it's your fault.  That this situation has completely escaped your attention means you are in even deeper trouble."

What follows is a version of 20 questions (or more) until the evil deed has been uncovered.