About Me

Pearl City, HI, United States

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Love and Mother's Day



Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey


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

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 natures, 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 shines in the morning and the stars glow at night.

It starts at the very beginning.  Most women will tell you that pregnancies do terrible things to their body.  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.  Bones are rearranged, skin stretches, and they are remade.  Once the baby is born, the real sprint begins.  Most of the rest of us expect moms 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 are the other jobs -- the paying ones.

Moms are driven by a singular kind of energy, which if it could be bottled, I suspect would power the United States for weeks on end.  They run the household, and they run our lives, not out of some misplaced megalomania, but because they love; deeply, passionately, and stridently.  This endless energy is a part of them that runs without ceasing for their entire lives.  Even when kids are adults, not an hour goes by when their mom doesn't think about them, and worry about them.  And when a mother becomes a grandmother, that love blossoms all over again.  

They understand little children in ways none of the rest of us ever will, because they not only tend to them, they actually live in their child's world -- how they play, what they like, what brings them sorrow and joy.   They understand at a very basic level that innocence.  They also understand what happens in the teen years when aliens come and possess their children's minds.  Despite all those battles, the love never dies.  They don't just raise children, they are fully invested in them, so much so that when the time comes for her children to take wings, they find it so very hard to let go.

And they're thinking of that moment.  They know that parenting consists of a lot of long days, but some very short years.  I think some of them fear that just a little.  Someday, before they are truly ready to accept it, that cute little toddler staggering across the room with binky in hand today will be walking out the door to college, to marriage, to their own lives.  It's a hard thing because if moms have done their job right, at eighteen years of age, that child is now an adult, fully prepared to stand on their own two feet and take control of their lives.  In other words, they don't need mom anymore, at least not in the way both have come to know.  But that relationship will always be there.  One day, the phone will ring, and a voice will say, "Mom, do you have time to talk?"  And Mom will instantly cancel all other plans, sit down, and listen.

That same warm, loving embrace that soothed the pain of scraped knees and bruised feelings will be there after a tough day at work, or problems in the marriage.  Whenever a grown child needs that place of refuge and protection, those arms will enfold, embrace, and make it all go away.

We will always feel inferior, because we struggle, and remember how they made it look so easy.  Their wisdom shaped us in youth and sustained us as adults.  And on that day when God takes them into His loving arms, they leave a hole in our hearts that will never again be filled.

Mother's Day celebrations usually consist of breakfast in bed, lunch or dinner out, maybe a shopping expedition and a few presents, along with the flowers and card.  But I ran into many who spent the whole weekend at graduations, baseball, soccer, and La Crosse games, some sitting in the cold and rain.  And they all said, "But that's okay."  And it truly was for them.  Their children are their lives, and giving their time to their kids is automatic, and at the same time, joyful.

The fact remains, however, that nothing we could ever do will come close to rewarding them for all that they have done, and will do.  Dozens of red roses, meals they didn't have to plan, cook, and clean up afterwards...there simply isn't enough of those in a lifetime to make up the debt.  They don't make roses that beautiful or chocolate that sweet.  The best thing we can do is to honor them every day, not just this one day in May.  Tell them -- and show them -- that they are loved and appreciated.  Do things for them, not after they've asked a couple of dozen times, but just because they needed done, and you know it would make her happy.  Cancel your own plans, and hang out with her for an afternoon or an entire day.  Praise her, honor her, and love her because that's what she has done for you.

Let's make every day a Mother's Day, because they deserve it.  I think we'll find that giving love is every bit as wonderful as receiving love.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Are You Ready?



Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

Spring and summer are often times when strong, even violent storms occur.  Such events are not unique to tornado alley or hurricane-prone areas, and it is prudent to make some preparations in advance.  Earthquakes, of course, don't require any season.  They just happen.

Basically, there are two scenarios.  One, if situations force people to flee their homes, such as floods or approaching hurricanes.  The other is if situations develop where people are going to be trapped or otherwise isolated for long periods of time due to disruptions of civil services.  Again, the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes, or if flooding isolates an area, effectively cutting people off from the outside world.  Regardless of where one lives, either scenario could occur.

Here in Hawai'i, the concerns center on hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.  And the odd nuclear missile threat.  People are continuously advised to prepare, but because people are people, almost nobody heeds those advisories.  After perusing some of the excellent publications available through Civil Defense and Emergency Management, I thought a discussion on how to prepare might be appropriate.

Let's first think about a situation where you might have to flee your home on short notice, for a number of very excellent reasons.  There won't be enough time to put your "Go Bag" together, and you could find yourself leaving behind items vital to survival.  While the term Go Bag might connotate a backpack, you might also think about a medium-sized wheeled suitcase.  As to what goes inside, here is a list courtesy of any number of government agencies.

-- Identification (ID card or driver's license.)
-- Credit cards, and a separate document listing the account numbers and security codes.
Bank account information.  Don't rely on your cell phone alone.  During an emergency, those towers could go dark.
-- Medical insurance cards
-- Advanced healthcare directives
-- Certified copies of property deeds, titles, and copies of the relevant insurance documents.
-- A two week supply of any prescription medications, and copies of the prescriptions themselves.
-- If you wear glasses, a copy of your lens prescription
-- A change of clothes (for rough wear) and sturdy shoes or boots.  If you have to walk through debris, tennis shoes will not last long.
-- Poncho or some other kind of rain gear
-- Portable battery or crank-powered radio, and extra batteries
-- Flashlight and extra batteries
-- Non-perishable food, such as energy bars, beef jerky, nuts, etc.
-- Water.  Under normal circumstances, a half-gallon per person per day for drinking.  In hot and/or humid regions, a gallon per person per day.  This, by far will be the bulkiest and heaviest item.  A gallon of water weighs nearly 8.5 pounds.  It is also the most vital item.  Experts say that a person can live for up to three weeks without food.  Without water, three to four days at most, less than that in hot and/or humid conditions.  Packing five gallons of water can keep you alive, but means you'll be hauling over 40 pounds everywhere you go.  If you can devise a way to put those containers on wheels, it will ease your burden.
-- Hygiene supplies.  Keeping yourself as clean as possible under the circumstances will stave off disease and prevent contaminating your supplies.  Also, toilet paper and wipes, some cleaning supplies, and extra diapers for the babies.
-- Comfort items.  Not sure what this entails, but off the top of my head, perhaps a treasured toy for a child.  What brings comfort to an adult is a personal decision.
-- Whistle.  At any outdoors store, you can purchase a hiker's whistle for less than $10.  These are designed to generate an ear-piercing sound detectable at as much as a mile, depending on terrain and conditions.  This is valuable if you find yourself trapped in debris, or someplace where searchers may not readily see you.  Also, it can be useful for family communication buy designating a code (like two long and one short blasts) so those who are separated can locate each other.  Again, don't plan on any cell phone service for several days or weeks.
-- Sleeping bag
--Tools.  Not an entire box, but a few useful items like pliers, knives, hammer, a manual can opener, one of each type of screw driver, and an adjustable wrench.  If there's room, perhaps a small pry bar as well.
-- A small comprehensive first aid kit, consisting of bandages, wraps, gauze, antiseptic, alcohol, and medical tape.  Even a small cut left untreated in a disaster situation could result in a major medical problem.

There are other items peculiar to your situation that you might include, but remember that whatever you put in there, you'll have to carry.  People who hike the back country can certainly provide some guidance here.

This collection should be gathered, packed and available for you to grab and go if an evacuation order is issued.  Some experts advise working people to have one at their place of employment as well.  Once you have your stuff, leave quickly.  Like Lot's wife, looking back can be fatal.

The other situation involves being trapped or isolated in your home.  You will have shelter from the elements, which is a real good thing, but to survive, you'll need more.

You should plan on providing for yourself and family for at least two weeks.  There are a wide range of situations that could put you in this situation, but there are a few certainties you can count on.  First of all, there will be no power, so anything powered by electricity will be useless to you until power is restored.  It sounds silly, but there are those who have a lot of canned food in their pantries, but only have electric can openers in their homes.  Second, while commercial radio stations will likely be operating, cell towers might take longer to restore.  We love our smart phones, but everyone should have either a battery-powered or crank operated portable radio, preferable one that can receive National Weather Service broadcasts.  Spare batteries are a must.  If your area has been isolated by flood waters, debris, or damaged roadways, it might be days before rescuers reach you.  During that time, your only source of information will be through that radio.

Food.  You should plan to consume about 2,000 calories per day, per person, and your menu choices should be from non-perishable sources.  Canned food, as long as the cans are not rusty, is usually the best choice.  Focus on protein sources, and vital carbs from vegetables and fruits.  We've already covered water, so don't skimp when laying in that particular item.  If you plan to cook, make sure you do that outside of the house.  Don't risk burning your only shelter to the ground.

Medications, again at least a two-week supply.  Coolers and a way to keep them cool will be necessary if your meds require cool storage.  Lay in a supply of basic vitamins as well.  

This is far from a comprehensive list, and there are likely some items I've missed.  Visit Ready.gov for a more comprehensive list.  But disasters are by definition impossible to predict, and the aftermath will be too late to prepare.  Now this not the stuff of the tin-foil-hat crowd, but a prudent and responsible way to make sure you and your loved ones can survive if the worst happens.


Sunday, April 07, 2019

My Lap Band Life: Postop #3

Three Weeks and looking good.

Copyright ©2019
by Ralph F. Couey

That photo represents a kind of triumph.  I am wearing pants with a size 38 waist, something I haven't worn since I was 25.  Suffice to say, I am happy with my new profile, even happier that since the swelling hasn't gone down completely, I'll get even smaller.  So, adding it all together, since I started this journey in 2011, I've lost 214 pounds.

Every day I've seen marked improvement in the pain levels.  But as the numbing agents which were injected during surgery begin to finally wear off, I'm feeling some discomfort that is just enough to impair my concentration.  I have pain meds for that, but I'm only taking them when I absolutely need to.  I was a counter-drug analyst for seven years, so I am well-versed in the trap of addiction that opiates represent.  My activity levels have increased accordingly.  I'm now walking two miles per day, and will up that a bit in the coming week.  My new job involves a lot of sitting, and that makes the ab muscles stiffen up.  So, when I stand up, there is a moment of two of pain while things stabilize.  The more I move, the looser those muscles become, and hence the lower the pain levels.  

I had my third postop visit with the plastic surgeon and was told that everything is healing as it should.  The belly drain stayed in for an interminable 16 days, but was finally removed so I've been freed from the necessity of carrying the darn thing around my neck.

Sleep is still difficult, but not necessarily from the surgery.  I'm having to get up every hour or hour and a half to visit the restroom, which is odd because during the day I can go four to six hours between visits.  I have a call into my urologist to solve this particular mystery.

One of the interesting things is how low my appetite has been.  I eat very little, and that has helped my continued weight loss, which is now down to 204.  I am still drinking protein drinks to ensure I get my fill of that vital nutrient.  

Friday night, I went to one of our Irish Music Sessions, and two my surprise, I lasted the entire two hours, tapping away at my bodhran (Irish frame drum).  It was a gas being with them again, although I kinda had to relearn the best way to hold it, since there's way less of me in those areas.  My stamina, which has had some bad days of late, continues to improve, probably helped by my walking.  I look forward to slowly returning to my normal levels as things improve.

I have to admit having to remind myself that I did this voluntarily from time to time as I've struggled with the pain and discomfort.  But I have absolutely no regrets that I had this done.  It was necessary to stave off skin infections, as well as the fact that no amount of diet and exercise was going to take away what was left.  I'm told that it will take at least another month or so for all the swelling to go down and the discomfort to go away.  I have to be patient, knowing that time will pass at it's own pace.  But I know that I've turned a big corner here with my health and appearance, as well as my confidence in myself going forward.  Despite the cost involved in acquiring a whole new wardrobe, I am delighted as to how far I've come, and how far I've yet to go.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Earning Wisdom


"If I had my life to live over again,
I would ask that not a thing be changed,
but that my eyes be opened wider."
--Jules Renard

Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

I would wager that there's not a single one of us who hasn't indulged in asking the question, "What if could start life over again; what would I change?"

It's a self-directed inquiry rooted in that somewhat rueful life review where we remember the mistakes we made, the errors in judgement, and other slip ups that decorate our past.  We think that if we could go back in time and correct those missteps, then everything would be different, and better.  While there's some truth to that, we overlook the real value of those experiences.

There are two invaluable things we gain through life, education and experience.  Education is levied through formal education, but also through the far less formal classroom colloquially referred to as "The Street."  While it is important that we reach a certain point knowing how to do most math, identify proper sentence structure, and an appreciation for human history, it is where that structured information mixes with sometimes harsh reality where true understanding is reached.  

The context of human experience is vital in the appreciation of what we know.  One can read and study about poverty, but until you plant your footsteps in the soil of Africa, you will never appreciate what true poverty really is.  One can also read about hate, but until you are face-to-face with someone who is consumed to the point of violence by that hate, you will never understand the power of that emotion.  It is, as they say, the difference between knowledge and street smarts.

The thing is, when we think about all the bad things that have happened to us (and we do that way too much), we forget that those events, and the associated powerful emotions have shaped the person we are today.  Likewise, all the good things that have happened have also helped to form us.  To deny that, even to wish it away is to invalidate a part of who and what we are.

Mistakes are a part of the human experience.  We all make them, from the minor slips to the major catastrophe.  But it is what we learn from those moments, and the experience we apply to the future that makes them valuable.  I've certainly committed some major errors in my life, things that I have regretted ever since. But it is that regret that has kept me from repeating those acts and saying those words.  While my actions have cost me relationships in the past, what I learned has certainly saved friendships in the time since.

My life now is a fairly satisfying one.  My wife and I are in a very loving and supportive relationship.  I have children (now adults) and grandchildren all of whom I love  with all my heart.  But I know that if I had made major changes to my life, I would not now be in this happy place.  For example, I know that if I had spent much more time and effort on my education, I would have emerged from high school and college in a much better position to succeed.  But had I done that, I wouldn't have been in that Kansas City bowling alley that Saturday when I looked across about 16 bowling lanes and fastened my eyes on the girl I would marry.  That one moment, the glimpse of her long black hair shimmering in the light, changed me forever.  I would have been someplace else doing something else.  Even the timing of when we had our kids would have changed who and what they would become.  

True, my early academic efforts were fraught with failure, but had I not been forced by economic circumstances into the Navy, I would have missed out on the life-changing experiences that flowed to me during those 10 years.  It really didn't become apparent until I went back to college in 1990.  I had seen the world, planting my feet in the soil of some 37 countries, from the poverty and despair of Africa to the cosmopolitan lights and excitement of places like Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore.  I had seen the human experience.  Now, I sat in class with young students for whom this trip to the University was their first venture outside their home counties.  The difference in perspective was immediately obvious.  In relating those experiences, I would be challenged by those who simply could not believe facts, an argument that I stopped with the words, "I was there.  I saw it."  I would not have traded that perspective for anything.

Those moments when I was convinced that a door had slammed in my face, I now realize opened other opportunistic doors of which I had never been aware.  It is a well-worn, even trite phrase, but it is nonetheless true.  Suffice to say, however, that in the throes of those bad moments, it is nearly impossible for us to see beyond the immediate disaster.  It is always the long view that gives us the proper perspective.  That perspective is the only thing I would change about my past, the ability to see beyond the present to the possibility of what lies beyond; to find hope in the midst of despair.

My sorrow, my angst, my regrets, they're all a part of me.  I could no more separate myself from them than I could cut off my own arm.  For better or worse, they make up the person I am today, one who has hopefully learned from the past.

There is a word for that; the combination of experience, learning, and pain.  It is something that is all-too present in old age while completely unavailable in youth.  It is the lessons we can pass along to anyone willing to sit down and listen.  

Wisdom.

Monday, March 18, 2019

My Lap Band Life -- Final Step, Part 2


Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

Well, its done.  The surgery went well, especially the induction of anesthesia.  But what was supposed to take 3-4 hours actually took over seven.  The first thing I remember on waking up were the words, "It's 2 o'clock, and we took about 25 pounds off of you!"  

Afterwards, he showed us two medical buckets filled with the most disgusting parts of myself.  I can truthfully say I won't miss them in the least.  My chest has been altered, and I have a new belly button.  But that excess skin and residual weight which was so hard to get rid of is now gone.  When I look down, I not only see toes, but my ankles as well.

We left soon after, delaying only long enough to ensure my plumbing was functional.  He told me that the first three days would be difficult, and he wasn't kidding.  Thursday night, despite the hydrocodone, was a night of real pain. Once I made it into bed, I had to use the receptacle for urinating, mainly with Cheryl's game assistance.  I didn't sleep well, and was tired the next day.  But I made it to the post-op follow-up without too much difficulty, although I did request a wheelchair ride back down.  During the case, he put about 5 liters of fluid inside me which left my gut uncomfortably distended, but with the compression garments, it has been steadily leaking back out for which I am wearing two drains.  

Friday night, my pain level was much lower, but I began to have breathing issues.  Cheryl, as fine a nurse as exists anywhere, knew immediately that I had developed a mucous plug in one of my lungs.  The only cure for that is long, slow, deep breaths accompanied by generating the kind of deep cough that develop way down in the abs, which are also very tender.  After a long night, as the sun rose, I finally hocked up a lugie, as the say, and my breathing instantly became normal.  Saturday was a day spent mostly in the lost sleep from the previous night so Saturday night was a long and sleepless one.  

Today, I am so much better.  There's still some pain and I definitely won't be doing any 5 mile walks this week.  But my gut is shrinking steadily, making me way more comfortable. 

At this point, I can't tolerate solid food, so I've been consuming a drink from Costco which includes 30 grams of protein.  I'm doing fine on this so far, and it has been very helpful in taking the hard-core antibiotics prescribed for me.  And drinking lots of Propel water, which is rich in anti-oxidants.  

Overall, I feel better than I would have imagined just two days ago.  I can begin to see the end of this road and the choice of April 1st to start my new job appears to be a pretty sagacious one.

I can't praise Cheryl enough.  She has taken excellent care of me, calming my fears and keeping me on track.  Caring for a post-surgical patient is never a walk in the park, but she had taken it on with a will.  Marriage is a tough thing sometimes.  But with us, it has been these times of personal trouble where we have found the best in each other.  If ever there was a time where I was convinced that I married way above my pay grade, this has been it.  Tomorrow she goes back to work, and while I don't anticipate any medical problems whatsoever, I'll still miss her loving and caring presence.

Major surgery is never an easy choice, nor an easy process.  Seven hours under anesthesia means that it will take several more days before its influence is completely flushed from my system.  While I'll be ready to work next month, it will be some time before I feel completely normal.  Nevertheless, I am glad I got this done.  The way forward will be enjoyable and I can at last take some pride in my appearance.  I've played this one close to the vest, not sharing with anyone what was going on.  Some of that was bound up in that fear that anything could go wrong.  But mostly, I suspect I was looking forward to presenting the new me as a surprise to family and friends.  Yeah, that's ego, but I think I thoroughly earned this on.

I'll continue to proved updates as the situation warrants, especially to those who may be considering this for themselves.  It is a testament to the evolution of the surgical art that I could have this kind of procedure and go home the same day.  And while the recovery hasn't been necessarily easy, it's still been better than it could have been even 5 years ago.

Dr. John Ferguson was my surgeon, and he is every bit as excited as I am by the results.  The long path I began in 2011 with a lap band has completed with a successful result.  

I couldn't be more grateful.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

My Lap Band LIfe: The Final step



Copyright 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

In January of 2011, I took a major step towards my chronic and dangerous weight problem.  I had a lap band put in, which basically wraps around the upper part of the stomach and greatly reduces the amount of food that can be taken in.  The results have been very satisfactory.  In the eight years since, I've dropped just under 200 (yes, that's right) pounds, my health has taken a complete one-eighty, and I can now look forward to a much longer and healthier life.  

Now I am ready to take the next and final step.  

That precipitous weight loss has left me with a lot of excess skin which now has become problematic with rashes and other skin problems, made more acute by life in the tropics.  So tomorrow at six a.m., that excess baggage will be removed.  It will be an extensive surgery, but routine for the Doctor I chose after exhaustive research.  Blue Cross Blue Shield, because this particular surgeon is not on their list, will not support this financially, so the total cost will be born by us.  The total cost for what I am having done is going to be around $17,000, which spread over a great 12 months no interest, gives us manageable payments of around $1,400 per month.  In addition to being the best available, this Doc was also the least expensive by ten to fifteen thousand dollars, which should have been good news to the bean counters at BCBS.

Now as to what is being done.

First off, the large, whale-shaped pannus that has hung below my belt for way too long will be removed.  He says I'll get a new naval (not that I was interested in one) and will not in any way affect the placement and function of the lap band.  Secondly, my man-boobs which have been a source of embarrassment for me will be cut down and contoured into something more in keeping with my gender.  The area between the two will be pulled up and tightened, giving me with a far more attractive profile, at least in my eyes.

The surgery will be done in the office, and after some recovery time, I will be sent home wrapped in several compression bandages.  Recovery time estimates vary (everyone is different) but could be as soon as a few days to a couple of weeks.  That's good, because I've landed a great job with Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency in the Emergency Operations Center which starts April 1.  That should be more than ample time for me to be ready to tackle this new responsibility, which mainly consists of sitting in front of a computer monitor.

My attitude towards this procedure is markedly different than the one I had prior to my lap band.  Back then, I had never been under general anesthesia before and was mainly terrified of waking up in the middle of the thing.  That was an irrational fear, as my wife who has 40 years in the surgery game has never, ever, ever seen that happen.  Now as the clock ticks down, I am not afraid.  Rather I am excited to get this done.  In a sense, this will be more life-changing than anything I've ever done.  I've never felt comfortable taking my shirt off in public, so self-conscious of my appearance was I.  Also, my access to really nice clothes has been restricted by the rolls of skin that I just couldn't get rid of.  I have no qualms about doing this at all.  I am focused on the tremendously positive outcome that will result.

Now, there is a risk, as there is with all invasive medical procedures.  Something totally unforeseen could happen that could result in my shuffling off the mortal coil, as it were.  But the risk of that is far less now than it was in 2011, as I am way healthier.  And even if the unthinkable would occur....well, I've been dead once already and all things considered, it was quite a pleasant place, so I have no fear of that outcome.  God is involved in this, as my prayers have been frequent, and the way everything came together, literally within days, is a testament that his hand is firmly on the rudder of my life.  

I'll be back in a day or two to report on exactly what happened, and hopefully provide some insight for those who have been thinking about getting this done.

Friday, March 01, 2019

The Soldier, The Death, and What We All Lost


"Here in this beautiful place, lying in peaceful repose, 
are those who heard and answered the call of the nation
at a time when danger stalked us all.
Proudly, bravely, they went forward into battle
determined to protect those left behind.
For this, they paid the ultimate price.
Today, we stand before their graves
and if we listen closely, we can hear on the wind
the whisper of their last request:
"America, be worthy of our sacrifice.""
--Ralph F. Couey

Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

It is a place that was created out of the unimaginable violence of a volcanic eruption a thousand centuries ago.  Now it is a place of memorial and remembrance, where some 30,000 of America's dead from four wars rest in peace.  In a city filled with tourist diversions, this place is almost hidden away behind the rugged walls of the ancient caldera.  

I came here on a beautiful sun-splashed day, the fresh breeze giving ripples of life to the flags.  Standing on the edge of the grass, I let the peace and solemnity of the place wash over me.  I began to walk, looking at the marker stones.  There I found America, in all her racial and cultural diversity.  The names reflected their heritage, German, English, French, Polish, Irish, Chinese, Samoan, Japanese, all were represented here.  The dates of their passing and the service and unit they belonged to were like a dictionary and atlas to the student of the wars we have fought in since 1941.  World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and the Global War on Terror.  I saw the names of men who died on that first day of war, December 7th, and those who died in Europe in early May, within days of that war's end.  It seemed such a tragic waste, but, I reminded myself, in war someone has to be the last one to die.

For a few hours, I strolled that green grass, reading names and dates.  I thought about the sacrifice these men had made, and what had come from that loss.  I knew that the freedoms we enjoy today are still present because of what these men and women had done to preserve them.  There were other places where husbands were interred alongside wives and children.  Entire families, together in life, now together for eternity.  And on white marble walls around the edge of the cemetery are etched the names of those who are still missing.  One name jumped out at me, 

Doris Miller.  Miller was an enlisted mess cook aboard the battleship West Virginia on December 7th.  During the attack, Miller went topside and found a machine gun whose crew had been riddled by Japanese bullets.  Miller took over the gun and stayed at his post, despite being wounded, until the attack ended.  He then turned to the wounded and helped to treat his shipmates.  Petty Officer Miller received the Navy Cross, the highest Navy medal that can be awarded for his actions that day.  A little less that two years later, Miller was aboard the escort carrier Liscome Bay off Makin Island in the Marianas.  A Japanese submarine got inside the destroyer screen and put a torpedo into the carrier that detonated the bomb storage magazine.  The ship was torn to pieces.  Petty Officer Miller vanished in the explosion.

There are interred here many soldiers from the legendary 100th/442nd regiment, an all Japanese-American unit that was awarded more medals for bravery than any other unit in American history.  Among these was Captain Daniel Inouye, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Italy.  He went on to a life of exemplary public service, unhandicapped by the loss of his right arm.

Any student of World War II knows about the 100th/442nd, and also knows how horribly they were mistreated and misused by General Dahlquist, the division commander.  But despite that treatment, and that their country put others like them behind barbed wire, the Nisei of the 100th/442nd fought with unmatched strength and valor.  

It is a mystery to me as to how America continues to find people of such courage to don a uniform in time of war.  America is not a warrior culture, like Imperial Japan.  Americans live their lives until the call comes.  Then they drop plows, leave schools, grocery stores, farms, and other mundane employment, travel to foreign lands and do incredible things. It is a fact that no nation in history has shed so much blood fighting for other people's freedom. 

It's easy to only think of them as a group.  But that was the main reason I was walking the green grass between the seemingly endless marker stones.  I wanted to think of them as individuals, young men and women who in their youth lost out on whatever the future may have had in store for them.  Love, marriage, children, grandchildren, the chance to contribute to their communities through their chosen professions and more mundane things like coaching baseball.  We have a future because they surrendered theirs. 

Recently, I was reading some research on the likely casualties that would have resulted from the invasion of the Japanese home islands.  The figures are alarming.  The United States would likely have incurred some 600,000 combat deaths during the two planned invasions.  Japanese would have suffered even more, approximately 7.5 million deaths, including regular military, civilians armed with spears and other implements, and those caught in the crossfire.  If you work out the numbers, 3.5 children per family in the U.S. post-war along with their likely grandchildren, and 2.3 Japanese children per family,  you are left with the staggering knowledge that because the war ended with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead of armed invasion, there are around 62 million people living today in Japan and America who would never have been born. 

Now, not all the graves in the Punchbowl are combat deaths.  There are many who lived to ripe old ages before succumbing.  But even if 20,000 of those who lie here had survived into the 1950's, they would have gifted the world with nearly 280,000 progeny, children and grandchildren.  All those lives that never would be, the loss of the endemic hope that always accompanies new generations, the talents and solutions for problems we will never know...  Beyond the math, it is an incalculable loss.

When studying the history of war, there is the tendency to think only in the macro.  By only thinking of the numbers, we are spared the emotion of mourning the individual. 

During the first day of the three-day Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, the 154th New York volunteers were hurriedly sent to a position northeast of the town to cover the retreat of the Union Eleventh Corp, which had been outflanked by attacking Confederate forces.  During the retreat, Sergeant Amos Humiston was cut down with a mortal wound.  As he lay dying in the field, he took from his pocket a picture of his three children which had been sent by his wife.  As he gazed at his beloved family, death overtook him. 

Later, a girl from the town found the body of Sgt. Humiston, still clutching the picture.  She took the picture to her father, who hung it in his tavern.  After the battle, a group of physicians passing through on a mission to care for the dead on the battlefield.  One of them took the photograph back to Philadelphia where it was widely published with the caption, "Whose father was he?"  In time, a woman in Portville, New York finally was able to identify the photo.  It was only then that she found out that she had become a widow.  Sgt. Humiston's body was eventually disinterred from the mass grave and given a proper burial in the National Cemetery. 

This is an important story because out of the massive number of war deaths, which historians now estimate at more than one million, the story of the individual soldiers had largely been lost.  Through the story of the Humiston family, everyone was able to understand that war is also a very personal tragedy. It is a story that we should never forget, and an example that should always be upfront. 

When we send our young people to fight, let us always remember the precious value of each individual person in life, and the loss to all of us through their death. 

And always remember why.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Home...And Feeling Lost

Oshawa Real Estate

"Home is not a place.
It is a feeling."
--Cecilia Ahern

Home.

It is a place of refuge, where we feel safe.  We can close the door and the world, for all its cold cruelties and confusion, will remain on the other side.  It is a place of comfort and familiarity.  The furniture is something we chose and purchased, even the cushions over time have formed to our shapes.  Everywhere we look we see reminders of life's journey; pictures of family and places, all attached to a specific memory that flows warm and comforting like a wave across the warm sands of our mind.  The air itself has a specific smell, a combination of things like perfume and aftershave; pets and the accumulated odors of any number of cooked foods.  No place smells like this.  It is a place where we are free.  We can relax and be our true selves and not have to hoist the sometimes exhausting patina we hold up before others.  Here we can voice opinions we dare not share anyplace else.  Here, our thoughts range into the deep and profound liberated beyond any confining walls.  Here we can express boundless affection, and yes, deep anger.  It is a place where love lives and is shared, where memories are made and bonds strengthened.

And when we've been away, it is the place to which we return.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Vietnam: The Lie That Was Lived

Photo: AP/John Nance

One of my earliest reliable memories occurred during that very tense time that accompanied the Cuban Missile Crisis.  At the tender age of seven, I didn't fully understand all of what was going on, but I could hear the tense, almost funeral voices that issued from our television during the evening news.  I also remember that for three straight nights, we went to bed with both the radio and television left on.  In the days before the text push, this was the only way for the government to issue alerts to the citizenry.

We lived in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, a metro area ringed by Titan II and Minuteman ICBM missile silos which made the area one of the many prime targets for a potential Soviet first strike.  I knew about the dangers of the time because the government made sure I knew.  At least twice per week we had "duck n' cover" drills at school.  Our vice-principal would occasionally walk around with one of those old-fashioned flash guns.  He would stick it just inside the door, trigger the flash, and then time how long it took us to get under our desks.  The winning class got either an extra dessert at lunch or 15 extra minutes of recess.  Yay.  On top of that, a couple of times per month we would watch film strips or movies about what we were supposed to do if we heard the sirens or saw a big flash in the sky.  At home, the networks would regularly run public service programming telling us pretty much the same thing, along with how to establish an emergency kit.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Playing the Instrument of Peace


Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey


Lord make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
--St. Francis of Assisi

It is not news that the world we live in has become consumed in conflict, both verbal and physical.  And as usual, there are innocent victims.  In this country, political passions are at a fever pitch.  Words of anger and condemnation, and threats of violence are being hurled from both sides.  The possibility of armed conflict has moved from the laughable to the possible.

The United States is no longer united, rent by a chasm that deepens and widens with each passing day, a wound that may never fully heal.

There was a time when a church was a place of refuge from the acidity outside, a true sanctuary of peace.  But now the passions of politics have invaded our churches. Words of anger and division are beginning to be heard from the pulpit.  Rather than rising above conflict, we are now mired deeply within it.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A Night, Cold and Cruel

Copyright 2019 Kansas City Star

Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey
Text only

And then, it was over.  The season which had been so spectacular, so full of hope and promise ended as the Patriots running back tumbled into the end zone.  The atmosphere inside Arrowhead Stadium which had been painfully loud was suddenly vented into silence with the finality of a burst balloon.

We stood there, some 70,000 red-clad fans, shocked into disbelief.  In the sudden quiet we could clearly hear the Patriots players celebrating on the field, and their retinue of traveling fans whooping it up in the stands.  The realization sunk home.  Our team had lost yet another winnable playoff game.  The persistent cold, which our passion and excitement had held at bay for those many hours at last made itself felt.  Once again, the hearts of Chiefs fans lay in shattered pieces.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

At Last!

"Victory belongs to the most persevering."
--Napoleon Bonaparte

Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

There is an incipient sense of unreality permeating those abused souls who call themselves fans of the Kansas City Chiefs.  The game is over, the score is official.  Arrowhead Stadium has been drained of fans.  Yet, in years past, such a situation was fraught with sadness and frustration after watching yet another playoff collapse.

But not tonight.

The Chiefs won a home playoff game.  And won it decisively for only the second time in a quarter-century.  Fans of other teams, particularly the Patriots, will find the resulting joy puzzling.  But no fans in the NFL have been put through the emotional ringer like we have.  I won't recount all the previous disasters since the networks spent a lot of time today dissecting that mournful trend.  But all week Reid, Mahomes, and Company were telling us the same thing:  The past doesn't matter.  We weren't here for that, but we're here now and this is going to end differently.  And they were right.

The Chiefs dominated in every aspect of the game, as the stats so graphically illustrate.  After those first three three-and-outs, the Colts were never really in this one.  But there were moments when Chiefs fans felt the brush of the wings of death flapping around our shoulders.  A blocked punt that became a touchdown.  A fumble deep in Chiefs territory that gave Indy the ball inside the 20.  A late drive capped off by a long bomb to the end zone.  The Chiefs offense shut out in the second half until a garbage time TD.  All those things had happened before.  Insurmountable leads were surrendered, with the opponents scoring on horribly unusual plays that could only have been dreamed up by Rod Serling.  But that scenario, that Shakespearean drama did not suddenly appear.  The time ticked down to zero, catching the Colts unable to run a last play, again something that happened to us in the past.  

Suddenly, without warning it almost seemed, the game was over.  The Chiefs... had WON!!!

Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's, and the Way Forward

Photo © Ralph F. Couey

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

"The only reason we do New Year's resolutions
is so we don't have to think about change
for the rest of the year."
--Ralph F. Couey

In a few hours, the terminator marking midnight will begin to sweep across the planet and as that imaginary line passes, humans will throw wild celebrations, marked by fireworks, alcohol, and behavior that likely will be regretted by tomorrow morning.

Still, there is an air of optimism as the clocks tick forward from yesterday into tomorrow.  2018, for all its triumphs and tragedies, for all the dreams realized and those crushed will pass into history.  In it's wake, 2019 will arrive with all the attractive fascination of a shiny new toy.  We will celebrate tonight, obscuring the very real idea that nothing much will have changed.

One of the most common questions asked of people on their birthday is, "Well, how does it feel to be ______ (insert the appropriate age)?"  The question is a bit inane because that kind of change doesn't show up overnight, unless of course the person is turning the age where alcohol consumption is now legal.  The same is true of New Year's.  The world will not have magically transformed itself between tonight and tomorrow morning.  People will still love those they currently love, and hate those they already hate.  The tribal conflict that our national political environment has become will not suddenly vanish.  Politicians of both parties will continue to lie and their constituents will continue to believe those lies, and the cycle of hate and intolerance will continue.

If, during 2018, we had a problem with abuse of alcohol, food, drugs, gambling, anger, laziness, or an utter incapacity to care much about anything important, then 2019 will be no different.  Oh, we may make promises to ourselves, but human behaviorists all agree that our commitment to those  vows will be gone by mid-January.  And life will go on, just like last year.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas: Living the Meaning of the Season


“Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. 
It is happiness because we see joy in people. ” – Thomas S. Monson

The anticipation begins building before Hallowe'en, as people begin to think about their gift list and how to plan the multitude of events that inevitably follow.  Thanksgiving becomes, in a sense, a warm-up for that big day in December.  Trips are planned, reservations are made, and time-off scheduled, time carved out so families can gather.  This is important because as life ages us and our children grow old...er...those times when we can all gather under the same roof become rare; treasured like a chestful of precious gems.

There is a darker side to this time, characterized by greed, self-absorption, and a deep sense of a quid pro quo entitlement where the gift you give is clearly defined by the gift you received last year.  One only has to watch the chaos at the big box stores on Black Friday to see those elements at play.  

But for most of us, at least I hope for most, Christmas is honored in the way and for the purpose for which it was conceived.  Some 2,000 years ago, give or take, a family left their home in a small, inconsequential village in Judea and traveled to the governmental and administrative hub for their province, the bustling city of Bethlehem.  They were required to make this journey because the government required an annual census of the population.  Because of the enormous influx of people, all the inns were full to capacity.  In sympathy for Mary's advanced pregnancy, the wife of one of the innkeeper's allowed them to lodge in one of the caves used for livestock. They weren't homeless.  There simply was no other sleeping space available.  If we stopped in a town while on vacation only to find that every hotel was full, I don't think we'd call ourselves homeless, even if the situation warranted spending the night in the car.

Friday, December 07, 2018

December 7th

At the beginning of the attack.  If you look closely, 
you can see, in the water, torpedo tracks and concussion rings.
--U.S. National Archives

"For me, the most remarkable aspect of that terrible day
was how quickly those young men cycled from the boredom of peacetime
to heroism in the face of the most violent, most frightening day of their lives. 
Japanese pilots repeatedly marveled at how quickly the Americans fought back."
--Ralph F. Couey
Frmr Chief Petty Officer
United States Navy

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

If you go there today, you will be impressed by the quiet beauty of the place.  The bright sunlight, the dancing waters, the fresh breeze all combine to provide a sense of peace and serenity.  Looking over towards Bravo Piers, I can see the gray shapes of modern warships apparently sitting quietly pierside, although I know better.  Aboard those ships, the crews are busily engaged in the myriad of tasks and projects necessary to the operation, preservation, and preparation of a Navy ship.  It is always a busy day, often a long one.  Concentrating on the work, they can forget the larger purpose of exactly why they wear the uniform

Seventy-seven years ago, there was another day like this one.  It was a Sunday, which meant that those sailors who didn't have the duty were sleeping in or just rousing themselves, planning how to spend their day in more delightful pursuits than chipping paint.  The off-going duty section was busily engaged in the routine morning work of preparing to turn the ship over to the oncoming duty section, who had just finished breakfast and were gathering at muster stations.  On all ships, the watchstanders were preparing to execute the daily flag-raising ceremony we all knew as "morning colors."  On the Battleships, a full band was mustered on the fantail, ready for a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.  Nowhere could be found any hint or suspicion that anything but a peaceful Sunday lay ahead.

Around 7:55 a.m., (0755, in Naval parlance), planes began overflying the moored ships.  Some began strafing runs and to everyone's shock, a bomb was dropped on Ford Island.  Even at that point, observers were convinced that this was a very realistic drill laid on by the Navy or the Army.  At some point, an invisible switch was thrown in their hearts and minds, and they realized with shock what was upon them.

War.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Post #700

Copyright Charles Schulz

"Every secret of a writer's soul,
every experience of his life, 
every quality of his mind
is written large in his works."
Virginia Woolf

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey
Written Content Only

Twelve years ago, I started on a journey, not knowing exactly where it would take me.  I had been doing some writing here and there, and was starting to get some pieces published in the local paper.  On the advice of a friend, I decided to open one of those new-fangled weblogs, or blogs for short.  My first post was a commentary about a motorcycle accident involving Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlesberger, which ended up in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  I discovered that writing was the creative outlet I had been searching for, a way to unload the thoughts that had been to that point uselessly banging around inside my head.  It was also a path to a personal kind of peace, a zone where thoughts were converted to words and displayed for all to see.  

I was a newspaper columnist for awhile, weekly gigs in two small-town newspapers in Pennsylvania.  But some of my essays were picked up by the Trib Group and ended up on the webpages of newspapers across the country.  Heady stuff, that.

I stayed away from politics for two reasons.  First off, we're already deeply divided and I didn't want to contribute to the widening of that fissure.  Secondly, there are a lot of unhinged people out there who react forcefully and sometimes violently to words and ideas that disagree with their particular view of the world.  While I enjoy meeting people, those were people I decided I was better off not knowing.    Beyond that, I've written about a broad range of subjects covering the plethora of the human experience.  I've written about events that happen deep beneath our feet and far beyond the stars. I've tried to write things that everyone would enjoy reading and walk away with a smile. 

Monday, December 03, 2018

Acting Stupid and Paying the Price

Fired.
Image Copyright © 2017
Associated Press

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

For almost two seasons, Kareem Hunt was a football star.  He had a memorable debut against the Patriots in a prime time game, replacing an injured Spencer Ware who now replaces him.  He fumbled his first NFL carry and would never fumble again.  That night, he gashed Bill Belichick's defense for 248 all-purpose yards and would go on to finish the year as the NFL's rushing champ.

Hunt was not just a runner.  He also caught passes -- a lot of passes -- and made spectacular yards afterwards.  He was the third in a string of great Chief's running backs after Priest Holmes and Jamaal Charles.  It would appear that Ware, the strongest back out of training camp had been, in the sports vernacular, Pipped.  Hunt rapidly became a fan favorite.  His yards were down a bit this season, but only because he was not the whole offense, but part of a multi-headed hydra of nightmare proportions that the Chief's offense has become.  But he still made incredible plays, dodging, weaving, hurdling, and catching long passes streaking out of the backfield.  It would have been easy to make the assertion that this was the beginning of a long Hall of Fame career.  He was that good.

But suddenly, shockingly, it all ended.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My First Official Book Review -- Meh...


Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

In the life of an author- budding or otherwise -- there are two gut-wrenching events, the gauntlet through which we must all pass.  The first is that initial meet with an editor, and the inevitable changes that must be wrought.  As painful as that is, I recognize how important that work has to be.  The second event is the first review by a third party.  A book review is, at best, highly subjective and can be heavily influenced by the mood of the reviewer on the day your book lands on their desk.  You can get a bad review for no better reason than the barista screwed up their latte order that morning.  But there are valuable things to be learned, the most important being not everyone is going to love your book and how to deal with that associated angst.

Last April I self-published my first novel on Amazon, Tales of Barely, Missouri, a collection of short stories about a fictional town in south Missouri.  In the time since publication, some 60 copies have been sold -- both hard copy and Kindle versions.  The comments left by the purchasers have been wonderful.  They all "got" the book, which is to say they understood the mood, setting, and characters.  I am deeply grateful for their feedback.  So, buoyed by those comments, I entered the book in a book competition hosted by Writer's Digest.  

I'll save you the suspense.  I didn't win.  Or place.  Or show, for that matter. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Where to Go, What to Do

Blast and fallout map, 150kt weapon.
(Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency)

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

On January 13th of this year, the people of Hawai'i were subjected to 47 minutes of terror, thanks to an erroneous posting of an EAS (Emergency Alert System) text message announcing that ballistic missiles were on their way.  What ensued were numerous acts of  mindless panic as people raced around preparing for the end.  As I noted in that post, people panicked because they didn't know where to go or what to do.  The state government worked hard to inform residents and visitors on actions to be taken during a tsunami or hurricane warning.  But nobody had undertaken the task of teaching folks where to go and what to do in case of a pending nuclear attack.  Those very politicians who were elbowing each other aside in order to position themselves in front of television cameras had utterly failed to teach their constituents how to plan and what to do to protect themselves.

Some may argue that it isn't the responsibility of politicians to do this kind of thing.  I beg to differ.  I grew up during the worst years of the Cold War.  My parents and I had numerous conversations about that nebulous "what might happen if" so even at the tender age of seven years old, I knew what I needed to do if those sirens began to sound.  I clearly remember our U.S. Congressman coming to my elementary school at least three times to tell us that inside our school was the best and safest place  to be, and if the alert happened, we needed to stay there because our parents knew we would be safe.   I also knew, thanks to comprehensive television and film programs which were shown regularly on local stations and at school what I was to do if I was at home, or even out riding my bicycle.  Because I had been trained and informed, I was never afraid of the "what if" or panicked when one day an alert was mistakenly sent out.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Loving Mahomes, But Still Being a Chief's Fan

The cannon is loaded.
© 2018 Chiefs.com


Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

Being a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs means you by necessity wear a thick callous around your heart.  In 1967 and again in 1970, they appeared in two Super Bowls (although technically, the first one was just called the AFL-NFL Championship), winning one.  The years since have been a long journey punctuated by some of the worst football ever interspersed with moments of regular season glee followed by truly epic playoff collapses.  Sad events like blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins in 1991, an injury-ridden loss to the Pats in 2016, a loss to the Steelers greatly assisted by several very questionable penalty calls, the 2003 "no punt game" against the Manning-led Colts, when the defense failed to generate one single stop.  Blowing an 18-point lead against the Titans, blowing another 28-point lead against the the Luck-led Colts, and the agonizing 3-point loss against the Colts when the Chief's "Kicker who shall never be named" missed three easy field goals, two in the fourth quarter.

Among those gut-punching losses are other games that should have been won, usually in the first round of the playoffs.