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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Life: It's Chapters and Verses*

Teacher, Adventurer, Sailor, Mom

In younger days,
Mom, Adventurer, Sailor, Teacher

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
September 5, 2010
as "In Book of Life, You Can't Read Last Chapter First"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

A life seems very much like a book, each chapter a clearly definable segment of the journey we’ve taken.

The chapters of our child-rearing years are closed. Our adult offspring are scattered across the landscape like so many autumn leaves. This is to be expected. Coueys are sojourners by nature, afflicted with that stubborn gene which causes restlessness, itchy feet, and a yearning for far horizons.

Visits are infrequent and all too short. Grandchildren have been born, deepening the sense of separation. We do occasionally see one or two, but those moments when we all gather are rare indeed.

Children grow into adults; everybody knows this. And yet, parents still see them as kids. But there are those jarring moments when we suddenly realize that they’re adults.

Our son is a Navy Chief Petty Officer, a third-generation sailor, and a second-generation Chief. Intellectually, I know this. But seeing him in that khaki uniform for the first time was still a shock. The real jolt came a year later

Every year, the Navy selects a group to be promoted to Chief. The lucky few then go through a rigorous process called “initiation.” As an old Chief myself, I was allowed to attend one of the activities. I watched the selectees seek out my son for counsel and advice, twitching unavoidably when they I heard them say “Chief Couey.” As he answered their questions and parted with his wisdom, suddenly before me, the boy vanished. Here was a man; a respected leader.

In the days following the death of her infant daughter, our oldest daughter naturally had a few breakdowns. But what surprised me most was her strength, always remembering that she still had two autistic sons to love; small boys who might never understand what happened to their baby sister. Although small in stature, I watched her grow immeasurably; a mom standing tall and courageous for her children in a time of great sorrow. I realized that she was so much more than I had ever given her credit for.

A few years ago, our youngest made a bold decision to transfer to De Paul University in Chicago. Responding to her request, we moved her over a hot and miserably humid August weekend. By Sunday, she was all set up in a tiny apartment with everything she needed. On Monday morning, we unenthusiastically packed for home, uselessly delaying the inevitable. We knew Chicago; a cold, heartless metropolis striving to be all the worst parts of New York City, and we were about to leave her there, alone and defenseless.

Finally, we said our sad goodbyes and drove away. I looked in the rear-view mirror one last time, my aching heart prepared for the sight of a forlorn and scared little girl. Instead, I saw a strong and fearless woman, standing tall and brave, shoulders back, eyes glittering, face set; her entire carriage issuing a challenge to the indifferent city: “Bring it on!

Our middle daughter and her husband are living in Colorado, he a computer genius of growing repute, and she finishing the journey of becoming a math teacher. She visited us this month, taking a few days of respite from the pressure cooker of her education.

She is a thinker, always exploring ideas and events as they swirl past. Once I had been the wise parent; now I had to work hard to keep up with her intellect. But as I watched and listened, suddenly the little girl with the pony tail and dimpled smile was replaced by a proud professional educator, engaged and committed to the highest ideals of education and the welfare of her students.

I know all too well my parental failings and shortcomings; all the mistakes I ever made. What they have done is due in large part to their own stubborn courage, adventuresome spirits, and driven natures. They have truly rocked their worlds.

Each chapter of our life’s book shapes the ones yet to come. In every story line there are plot twists and surprises. Our children prove that life can never be predicted. And yet we see the future through eyes of hope; the open promise of a life incomplete, a story with an end that remains a mystery.

The best part of the book of life is knowing that we can’t skip ahead to the last chapter.
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