About Me

Pearl City, HI, United States

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

9/11: The Fading of Remembrance

The 9/11 Memorial in New York City
from CitysightsNY.com

"If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, 
we learn that life is short
and there is no time for hate."
--Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl

Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

It's hard to believe, isn't it?  Eighteen years have passed since the day that changed the world and defined the generation who lived that day.  Children born that year are out of high school and either on to college or starting that long, hard road we call adulthood.  But when that amount of time passes, even an event so life-altering as 9/11, memories begin to fade. We don't forget, mind you, but the years have taken the edge off those recollections.  

Every year, I ask myself how many people will have to be reminded when the anniversary day arrives.  Certainly, there are those whose personal or political agenda is perfectly at home with forgetting altogether.  But all you have to see is what happens in New York City when an airliner or other large jet makes a low pass over Manhattan.  In a word, people freak. In the Big Apple at least, 9/11 is still an open wound.

So many things changed, not the least was the feeling that because we were Americans, that nothing bad would happen to us.  Sure, we saw television news accounts of terrible terror attacks in far-off places such as Israel, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, and the Middle East.  We took comfort in the idea that we weren't a primary target, and that the mighty shield of law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the military would protect us.  That proved to be a delusion.  Since then, there have been attacks on our soil, but almost all by unaffiliated lone wolves, the psychopathically homicidal.  The terror groups are still out there, and they're certainly making efforts to hit us, but  haven't succeeded. Instead, the fear of Jihadist terror attacks has been largely replaced by mass shootings.  I am darkly amused by the statement always issued by law enforcement in the wake of these tragedies:  "Not terrorism related."  As if that somehow makes it better.  

The fear is very real.  Earlier this summer, in one of the TSA checkpoints at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, someone knocked over a heavy stantion, used to support those lines that define where people are supposed to go.  The sound was loud and metallic, and in another time would likely have been completely ignored. But someone, who likely had never ever heard the sound of gunfire before, panicked and yelled, "Active shooter."  A total panic was sparked, people sprinting towards the exits.  Some were injured in the crush.  Others took refuge under chairs, desks, and anything else that promised even illusory shelter.  Officials got things back under control in remarkably short order, but now the thousands of passengers had to be lined up and re-screened, which took hours.

In October 2017, a professor at the University of Southern California had what was called "an episode" and told students there was an active shooter loose on campus.  Panic followed a huge response by LAPD which determined that the report was false.  In July of this year, another false report in downtown Chicago emptied a building on The Loop.  In August, at a Walmart in Harker Heights, Texas, store security chased after a shoplifter who raced out the front doors and ran away.  Seeing the running of the thief and store security, someone panicked and screamed "Active shooter!"  The store emptied in minutes.

These incidents are a response to the increasing number of mass shootings now afflicting our country, all done by people with serious mental problems. 

Hovering around, over, and within is the unrelenting atmosphere of hate that has bloomed in the United States. We can't just disagree anymore, we have to be hateful.  Taking a step back, it's easy to see how easily pundits and politicians from both sides are able to manipulate us into a constant state of anger.  None of us seem willing to think for ourselves, but rather just take what we are told at face value and run with that.  The thing is, even a moment of critical thought and objective examination of the claims and the utter lack of supporting facts would reveal the lies.  But we aren't willing to do that; it's just too much work.  We'd rather let someone else do our thinking for us.  Just because they're famous is all the criteria needed.

So this is where we find ourselves on the eve of the 18th year since 9/11.  Much safer than ever from foreign terror attacks, we are now more vulnerable from each other.  The boogeyman's identity has shifted from Middle Eastern to Middle American. 

As time passes, and generations succeed each other, the painfully sharp memories held by those of us who were alive and aware on that day will pass along with us.  Those who follow us will know 9/11 as history instead of memories.  Makes sense, as they won't have any personal connection to the event.  Unless we, of the 9/11 Generation impress upon them the magnitude of that tragedy, the meaning of what happened will be forever lost.  It is how an tragedy eventually becomes a footnote.

But why should we remember?  

Other than Pearl Harbor, this was the first time a foreign entity had attacked us on our own soil.  The victims were not soldiers, but ordinary people just going to and being at work, guilty of nothing more than living their innocent lives.  In the aftermath of the attacks, there were numerous acts of heroism recorded by those who escaped the towers, and likely dozens more that died with those heroes when the buildings collapsed.  Then there was the courageous acts of resistance performed by the passengers and crew of Flight 93.  We know now that performing acts of courage often is just a matter of an ordinary person finding themself in extraordinary situations, and choosing to act.

Our government, intelligence agencies, military, and law enforcement were caught completely off-guard.  We learned later that not only did they not know about the attacks beforehand, nobody had even thought about the possibility.  Those entities are now much more orientated towards the unexpected and being much more proactive.  And We the People are much more aware of our surroundings.  Having worked in the counter-terror field, I can say that there is enormous value in our willingness to speak up; to say something when we see something.  As much as anything else, that increased attention by all our citizens has helped to prevent another such attack.

People died that day, many in the most horrific and violent ways possible.  We know that soldiers die in battle.  But these weren't soldiers.  They were just like us.  Their surviving friends and families still mourn; still feel pain.  And we need to remember them.

We should remember the way we all healed our political wounds and for a precious, and unfortunately short time held hands and stood shoulder to shoulder, united in defiant love to the rest of the world   Our fractious congress stood on the steps of the capitol and spontaneously sang "God Bless America" to us and the world.  We still have the ability to stand together, to love one another.  It shouldn't take a shared tragedy to do that.

Finally, in no other event in American history has the role of first responders, specifically police officers and firefighters, been so sharply brought into focus.  We saw the kind of extraordinary courage it takes to do that job.  For me, the image that encapsulates their sacrifice is this one:

Source unknown

This was taken in one of the towers by one of those who were evacuating.  We see a young firefighter from Ladder 28 loaded down by all his equipment steadily climbing up the endless stairs.  He is clearly fatigued, but he knows that once he reaches the floor where the fire is raging, his real job will begin.  He and his brother firefighters are doomed. We know now that the jet fuel-fed fire contained by the exterior walls was burning at around 1,500 degrees fahrenheit. Structural steel loses 90% of its tensile strength at that temperature, and was no longer capable of holding up the building. But he isn't running away.  He's continuing to climb to reach the fire.  We don't know if he thought his actions useless.  But for him and 342 of his brothers, there was only one thought, one goal.  Fight the fire and save the civilians.  Walk into danger when others are running away.  

There was the horror and the violence. There was the sense of helpless fear.  There was the anger and sense of violation at being attacked.  The gut-punch of seeing one, and then two of the greatest buildings ever built collapse into dust.  The unspeakable horror of seeing people falling from the building who had been forced out by the incredible heat and smoke, choosing the long and final fall rather than burning to death.  But there was also the unity, the immediate willingness to help each other.  The national sense that we were all in this together.  And the spoken promise that we would always remember.  

The scale of the commemorations has declined over the years, and the media's attention declines measurably every year.  What was once live broadcasts now will be summarized in less than thirty seconds on the evening news.  But we've changed.  I think because of 9/11 we are for more willing to reach out to complete strangers and help each other in times of shared danger.  I think the way we look at each other has changed, knowing that there may come a moment when we may be able to save their life, or they to save us.  On that level, we are more involved with each other.

Most important of all, we are ever so much more sensitive to the fragility of life.  Any one of us could be taken in death at any moment, without a shred of what anyone would call a good reason.  So many others shared that perfunctory kiss before separating that morning, others perhaps a more fractious parting, all of whom not knowing that those moments would be their last moments.  In all our relationships in this post-9/11 world we need to remember how quickly we can lose people, and how important it is to repair a fractured relationship while we have the time and opportunity to do so.  

We need to love each other today.  Because tomorrow may not be there.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Power of Remembering



Copyright © 2019
By Ralph F. Couey

As the years pile up, our bodies begin to break down.  This is the inevitability of aging, the one thing we all laugh about to each other, but perhaps cry over to ourselves. Gradually, we are forced into giving up activities in surrender to our fading capabilities.  But for me, I can live with the physical degradation, to a point.  I had to give up softball because I just got too slow.  I had to give up my motorcycle because my reflexes were no longer quick enough to keep me safe. I had to give up running because my joints could no longer take the pounding.

But I have taken up other activities.  I'm still writing.  I'd taken up hiking several years ago, and as soon as I am completely over my surgery and pneumonia, I'll happily return to the trails.  I play ground golf, a local Hawai'i hybrid of golf, croquet, and frisbee.  While it's not the same as tearing around the bases with my hair on fire, it's way better than flopping on the couch in front of the TV.  I've gone back to work in a really interesting job in state government serving the public once again.  And I'm caring for my memory-impaired mother-in-law, which keeps me from drowning in my own occasional pocket of self-misery.

One of the saddest things is what happens between the ears.  The brain gets old and memories, once sharp and complete begin to take on a kind of hazy indistinct miasma from which accuracy gets harder to glean.  Of all the bad parts of aging, for me, this is the worse.

It's hard to understand.  Some recollections remain razor-sharp.  The earliest reliable memory I have is from May 5, 1961.  I was five years old (nearly six) sitting on the front porch with my mother as we listened  to the breathless recounting of Astronaut Alan Shepard's suborbital flight.  Yes, on the radio.

Beyond that, there are minute scraps that flare into sharp recollection on occasion.  The first time I earned some praise from my first-grade teacher.  Holding the first dog we ever owned.  Sitting in front of the television on Saturday morning watching cartoons while my Alphabits grew soggy in the bowl.  I remember on cold winter mornings I would get out of bed and sit in front of the furnace vent underneath the window and look around and the frigid outside while I sat warm and comfortable on the floor.  I would stay there until Mom or Dad would tell me for the third time to get ready for school.

My Dad had gone out of town again, I think it was either Nigeria or East Berlin that time.  I had been unaccountably (and uncharacteristically) well-behaved, so she decided to treat me by taking me to Kansas-City's old Municipal Stadium to watch my beloved Kansas City A's.  I loved baseball, and I loved going to the games.  Dad rarely took me, mainly because he was a football fan and was terribly bored by any contest not ruled by a clock.  As it turned out, it was a real treat because she had sprung for box seat tickets (at a confiscatory $3.50 a pop).  It was early August 1964, a warm and humid evening. The Yankees were in town, and I was about as excited as I had ever been.  After walking into the venerable old structure, we found the aisle where our seats were.  Leaving her in my proverbial dust, I raced down the cracked concrete steps, my steps growing longer as I got closer to the field.  I was just a bit out of control, so I ended up banging off the rail at the bottom.  The first thing I saw was the transition from foul area warning track to grass, and I was amazed that every blade of grass seemed to be standing at attention.  

Then, I slowly raised my head.  There, in front of me on the deep green of George Toma's flawless grass field were my heroes.  Campy Campaneris, Rocky Colavito, Dick Green, Jose Tartabull, Jom Gentile, and my two favorites, Ed Charles and Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, who still has my vote for the best nickname ever.  In my previous visits, we were relegated to the upper deck, so from this rare field-level perspective, these men looked enormous.   As I took in the sights, I also remember the smells.  Hot Dogs, popcorn, and the ever-present smell of cigarettes hanging in the humid air.  

To my left, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big fella in Yankee road grey talking to some folks at the rail.  He finished his conversation and turned in my direction at the same moment I turned towards him.  We locked eyes and he smiled briefly and in an Oklahoma drawl said, "How ya doin', kid?"  Then he turned and jogged back to the field, leaving me with the sight of that magical, legendary, and iconic number 7.  

I was nine years old, a baseball fan, and I had just been face-to-face with Mickey Mantle.

Kansas City won that game, surprisingly.  Whitey Ford was cuffed around by the A's, while John O'Donoghue turned in a fine performance.  The only run he gave up was a long home run by (who else?) Mantle in the sixth inning.

It is odd that I still remember so much from that night, and not just the game.  I remember the velvety air of a Missouri summer night, the smells of the ballpark.  I remember turning to my Mom at one point and thanking her for taking me.  The gentle smile I got in return warmed me all the way through.

There are other moments, which for space and time, I won't bore my readers.  Seeing my wife coming up the aisle in her wedding gown, and that moment I held our first child in my arms and realizing that my youth was well and truly over. Giving up my motorcycle was one of those truly painful moments, but I still have incredible memories of those rides.  One in particular was on a fall afternoon in Pennsylvania.  I was riding through the mountains east of Johnstown.  I remember being in a forest full of autumn's vivid reds and brilliant golds under a sky of the purest cobalt blue.  I was leaned hard into a tight curve on a road dappled in sun and leaves while behind me, the roar of the engine streamed away, more of a song than a sound.  The air was cool, but not yet cold and full of the smells of fall.  I felt vividly, vibrantly alive.

The years ahead will be far fewer than the ones already passed.  I don't know how long I will be continuing in this life, but I'm pretty sure that the older I get, the less I will remember, like where the car keys are, or why I walked into a particular room.  Or why I couldn't remember a particular appointment or someone's name.  But I'm sure that in some parts of my brain, these beautiful snippets from my life will always be there, ready to be taken out, dusted off, and re-lived.

There will be a day when I will be sitting in a wheelchair someplace, staring off into space.  But at some point, I may smile just a bit.  Maybe a bit of light will return to my eyes.  One of those small pieces of priceless joy will have unfolded in my mind and for a few precious moments, I will be transported to another time and place.   

And life will be beautiful once again.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Mars...and Beyond

© NASA/JPL


Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

"We want to know;
We want to know who we are 
and what we are capable of.
I want to know."
--Jeno Marz

Fifty years ago this week, an ugly, spindly craft landed on the moon, after just a bit of a detour.  Although practiced literally hundreds of times into an area memorized from images, it was discovered that no plan survives contact with reality.  Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin cooly and calmly glided the fragile craft past a boulder field to a much more inviting place.  With 22 seconds of descent fuel remaining, the craft settled onto an alien surface for the first time in human history.  A short time later, Armstrong descended the ladder, and after a short pause on the foot pad, made humanity's first footprint on the moon.  

Six more missions would be launched towards earth's satellite, five actually making the landing.  At the time, it seemed logical that we would take the next step and head for Mars.  But we knew so little about space and we naively assumed that going to the red planet was little different than the moon, just a longer trip.  Decades later, we know differently.  

Once outside the protective canopy of Earth's magnetic field, the craft and its occupants would be at the mercy of the radiation from our nearby sun, and those a lot further away.  Those rays if not blocked somehow would kill the crew, especially if the sun began erupting flares.  Also, they would be at the mercy of debris in space, ranging from continent-sized rocks down to things the size of a grain of sand which despite the size, could punch a crew-killing hole in the side of the craft.  Just getting there would be a dangerous challenge.  

Friday, July 05, 2019

Giving Our Best to America


Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

It was a hot, muggy day in 1776. A group of 56 delegates had been meeting in Philadelphia for some time to debate whether 13 British colonies dared to tell their King that they were declaring themselves a separate nation.

This was no small decision.  Britain was a global power at the time, possessing the most powerful army and navy on the planet.  Those 56 committed patriots knew that once the text of this declaration crossed the Atlantic Ocean, retribution would be swift, sure, and merciless.  They also knew that as signatories to this revolutionary document that their lives would be held in forfeit by the King.  Despite this very real danger, they boldly closed the document with the strident words, "We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."  To the dream of Independence, they gave their best to America.

The war that followed was bloody, difficult, and expensive.  George Washington's army was at times shoe-less, starving, freezing, and defeated.  But somehow, despite those hardships, they persevered.  And with the help of the French, victory was achieved.  America had been declared a nation, and fulfilled itself on the battlefield.,  They gave their best to America.

The real work now began.  Through the process of vigorous and rancorous debate, the people's representatives undertook deciding what kind of country it would become.  Finally in 1789, the United States had it's constitution.  It has been endlessly pointed out that the men who did this were slave owners.  But the right to own slaves was not enshrined in those articles.  Nor would it be.  Ever.  They knew that this government, this experiment in representative federalism must be allowed to mature, to grow beyond itself to embrace new, even radical ideas.  This visionary wisdom, that American government would never be fully complete, has shaped us as a people.  In the face of bitter resistance, they gave their best to America.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Bright Lights That Are Grandchildren


Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

Late on a Wednesday night, I pulled alongside the curb at Honolulu International Airport, just outside baggage claim 29.  The door opened, and like foam coming out of a shaken can of soda, three gleeful, lovely, and precious grandchildren flooded into the vehicle.  They all had stories to tell and the vehicle, just moments before completely silent, became filled with those happy voices. 

Oh, yeah...their mom came along as well.

A human's later years can be times of trial and regret.  But grandchildren rekindle the joy of life, and light the days with a gentle, warm light.  Being a grandparent is different.  We're not involved in the day-to-day challenges of rearing them, especially if they live far away, as all of ours do.  But being around them, we remember the very important role we do have.  We love them without limits, to be sure.  But we are also that ready ear to listen to them.  We remember how important a pair of arms are to the proper hug, and how important the words, "We're so proud of you" can light up their faces.  

It was bad timing for me, in a way.  Three weeks ago, I caught a cold which became the flu (first time in 17 years), and morphed into pneumonia.  For the first few days, I wore a surgical mask around them to they wouldn't catch the persistent and stubborn bug with which I was struggling.  They will be here for about a month and we had a long list of things we wanted to do with them.  I hated being sick, more than I ever have, not just because of the bug but also the accompanying waves of exhaustion that kept me horizontal for most of the time.  

But that illness is receding, I'm regaining my strength and energy, and am excited to make up for lost time.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Parents, Kids, and That Priceless "Now"



Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

A person's life can be said to be broken up into different segments, call them chapters, phases, or whatever your favorite partitional noun might be.  At its most basic, there is childhood and adulthood.  But it's really more complex.  There are many markers or signposts which mark significant moments of change for us.  While most are important, there really is nothing that alters one's life and the path through it like parenthood.

I can only speak to the male perspective on this, but I remember that first moment I held my infant son in my arms.  Inside, my heart and brain were ringing with the crashing realization that I was responsible for this tiny human being, and how he turned out was going to be either my triumph or my fault.  

It is simplistic to assume that while a baby requires a lot of work and close attention, and the need to hover over them lessens over time.  In truth, until they reach the age of mature, responsible adulthood, parents need to be fully involved.  It's not like changing diapers, per se, but it's no less taxing and difficult.  In particular, teens need to be closely looked after because the last thing in their brains that develops is that section that deals with consequence.  They all believe they're brilliant, and smarter than us, but you only have to look as far as the news to know how tragically flawed that line of thinking can be.

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Music of Ireland


Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

It's tough to go anyplace in this world and not find at least one Irish pub.  And wherever there stands a pub, there will be a place where dedicated, talented musicians gather and joyously keep alive the traditional Irish music.

It may be a stretch, but it's hard to think of any other traditional form of national or cultural music that has found such wide embrasure.  Most people are familiar with the high-spirited quick-stepping music that boils out of the woodwork every year around St. Patrick's Day.  While many a glass of Jameson or Guinness has been hoisted to those tunes, very few of those celebrants are likely able to name any others beyond the well-known standards.

Traditional Irish music, however, is way more than just pub songs.  In many ways, it captures the spirit that has sustained the Emerald Isle.  Irish history is vastly complex, and defies simple analysis.  I won't attempt to recount it here, but suffice to say that it is very much a tangled web.  But the echoes of those events will be found in the music.  

There are different types of songs in the traditional book.  Jigs and reels, hornpipes, mazurkas, all of which with their own particular swing.  Most are instrumentals, but in a typical session there will be a few that will be sung.  The lyrics span the length and breadth of the Irish experience, not only in Ireland but also following those who emigrated elsewhere.  There are songs that were born in the rousing camaraderie of the pub, the at times glorious and stormy relationships between lad and lass.  But some of the most compelling came out of the Irish struggle for identity and independence.  There is s a common thread through those lyrics of a deep and abiding love for Ireland, not the political structures, but the land itself.  Even those songs about those emigrants reach back into the singer's memory of a beautiful green island that will always be home.

Its that common love that drives the sessions, experiencing the music and the emotions both good and bad.  Its looking around a room full of musicians passionate about keeping alive the music that defines what it means to be Irish.

Wherever you live, you can find a session, sometimes several every week.  And even if you don't go every time, you should at least go once.  Who knows?  You just might fall in love.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A Hopeful Future in Space



Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

One of my first reliable memories is sitting near my mother on a beautiful day in May while we both listened to the reporting of Alan Shepard's suborbital flight.  Yes, on the radio.  I think it was pretty much that moment when the endless unknowns and adventures of space travel.  

From then until the last Apollo mission to the moon, I remained riveted.  Even after our manned missions outside of earth orbit ended, there were other missions to follow and marvel at.  Most vividly, the missions of the Voyager spacecraft as they swept through the solar system returning amazing heart-stopping images of distant planets and moons.  Both probes are beyond the immediate boundaries of the solar system, but still have to navigate the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud before actually leaving their home star for good.

Exploration continues, albeit with robotic probes and not with humans.  We now know what Pluto looks like. We have close-up images of two Kuiper Belt objects, one of which I still think should have been entitled "BB-8."  Three dune buggies have been crawling along the surface of Mars, two of which have long outlasted their expected lives.  While these missions have been informative, even scintillating they will never fully replace the human explorer.

So, what lies next?  NASA is committed to establishing a permanent habitat on the moon, and is taking the long view towards eventually putting human boot prints on Mars.  But there could be other things to do as well.  

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sixty-Four: A Birthday Perspective

                                         Old                                                          New 

Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey

I turned 64 today, and while time makes such events inevitable, I still felt a mild degree of surprise.  It hasn't been that long ago that I considered people of that age impossibly ancient.  I never thought about what it would be like for me to reach this point.  In fact, less than 15 years ago, I truly thought I'd be gone by now.  For me now to admit, accept, and acknowledge that I am that old is a bit of a tough pill to swallow.  And I already swallow too many.

Physically, I doing better than I thought possible.  After eight years of dieting sandwiched between two surgeries, I am about 235 pounds lighter than I was back then.  Even with five stents in my heart, my cardiologist says my heart  is amazingly strong.  All those elements involved in blood tests are under control and within norms.  I still walk, now building my distance back to my pre-surgery daily regimen of six miles.  Arthritis hasn't manifested itself yet, and my hearing and sight are about normal for someone of my...ahem...age.  I worry about my memory and what I can do to retain the capability I have left.  Our marriage is strong, and we've been blessed with great kids and beautiful grandkids. My biggest problem right now is a closet full of pants that won't stay up anymore.

So, I have really very little to complain about.  But I carry a kind of sadness within, the source of which is a bit of a mystery.  I know I've been incredibly fortunate, and I need to be more grateful.

Last week, I began to get the inevitable inquiries concerning what I wanted for my birthday.  What should have  been an easy answer has led to some introspection.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.  

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.

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, 

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.