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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Reaching Across the Horizon**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
May 13, 2011
as "Reaching over the horizon"

*Somerset, PA  Daily American
May 14, 2011
as "Reaching over the horizon"

We were talking one afternoon, you know, the kind of informal gab session that strikes as you wait out the last five minutes of the work day.  There is a curious freedom to these end-of-the-day chats.  The subjects can range from the mundane to the profound.  We might talk simply about our plans for the night, or tackle something as deep as “The Meaning of Life.”  Knowing that the time for exploration is short, boundaries are lifted and thoughts flow freely. 

Somehow on that day, the subject of travel had fallen from the sky and we were recounting all the places we'd visited, either work or pleasure.  Surprisingly, most of the lists were fairly short, 6 or 7 places outside the U.S.  Once everyone else had left, I went back to my desk (flexing today) and spent a few minutes staring at the world map that hangs over my desk. 

My Dad was a minister, one who traveled the world over.  He managed to pass on to me that same kind of restlessness.  Even in my youth, I would accompany him on his summer rounds of church camps.  By the time I was 15, I had already visited 26 states, along with Canada and Mexico. 

I always enjoyed those journeys.  I saw lands beyond the horizons, deserts, mountains, forests, and coastlines.  Best of all, it was quality time spent with my Dad, as he was gone a lot during the fall and winters.  As we traveled those many miles, we bonded in such a way that made my teen years a good deal less difficult than they might have otherwise been.

After high school, I went to college in Iowa and Missouri, before running out of ideas (and job prospects).  During that time span, I met and married my wife, a girl of Japanese-Okinawan descent from Hawaii, and we had our first child.  Times were tough, jobs were scarce, so I made the decision to join the Navy.

"Join the Navy and See the World!"  That ancient recruiting aphorism proved to be accurate.  In ten years, I added 20 countries to my list. For my shipmates, most of their explorations of these far-flung places were limited to the nearest bar.  Being a non-drinker, I chose to spend my free time exploring the cities, watching and learning volumes about the challenges and routine of other people’s lives. 

The Big Blue Canoe Club and I parted ways after 10 years and I went back to school at the University of Missouri.  I was astonished to find out that many of my younger fellow students had never been out of the home states.  For some, Columbia, Missouri was their first trip out of their home counties.  In my interactions with them, I discovered the gulf that exists between a view of the world that comes from a book, and the one that grows from the evidence of one’s own eyes.

Seeing other lands and experiencing different cultures and peoples broadens one's perspectives.  That experience has helped me to put a face, and sometimes a name to the otherwise anonymous billions.  And as an American, I gained a whole new appreciation for my own country and the possibilities that still exist here for people willing to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to succeed. 

My view of the world is substantially different than most, mainly because of my travels, and it's a view I'm very grateful for.  For me, international issues are not black and white, but a multitude of sometimes barely discernable hues; subtle tints derived from a vast ocean of a nations and cultures.  I’ve learned a little about how the world looks to them, seen through their particular lens.  One of the most important things I've learned is how to respect those perspectives; how many times there are no "wrong" opinions, just different ones.

There are as many points of view as there are people.  The paths of human lives parallel and occasionally cross each other and in that moment of intersection, if we look carefully enough, we can find commonality.  We all have wisdom to teach, and hearts to receive it.

In such a moment, we can create friendships.

And grow Peace.
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