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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.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015


"For last year's words 
belong to last year's language;
Next year's words 
await a different voice."
--T. S. Eliot

Copyright © 2014
by Ralph F. Couey
image and written content
except quoted and cited passages.

This day we call New Year's is at its essence an arbitrary point, a mere pixel in the vast expanse of time.  Yet, we have assigned this day as the first one in that annual road map we call the calendar.  And because we humans are all about fresh starts, we mark this day as a beginning; a clear slate, if you will.

Behind us lies 365 days of epic achievement and utter failure; of boundless joy and complete devastation.  Of dreams realized and dreams broken.  One of our unfortunate tendencies is to focus on what went wrong during that time and vow to fix them.  These promises, that which we call "resolutions," are usually anything but.  "Resolve" as we have discovered is ephemeral; that ship upon which we confidently set sail, only to find out that its full of holes and gravitates towards the rocks.  And rather than fix the holes and alter the course, we abandon the ship.

I"ve always felt that part of the problem is that we make these vows in the time of year when the cold, snow, and ice drive us indoors; the short days make doing anything extra or different difficult.  Let's face it; when the sun goes down, we get sleepy.  My resolutions don't get made until spring.  When the warm sun shines, and the earth springs forth in new life, I am touched by that spirit of rebirth and renewal.  I find my plans easier to fulfill, and my dreams far more likely to become reality.  The next two months I have come to call "The Long, Dark Tunnel" for a good reason.  In the winter, I don't feel like doing anything.  In the spring, I feel like doing everything.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hiking: Part 16


Copyright © 2014
By Ralph F. Couey



Just before my wife left for her biennial trip to Hawaii to visit her family, she told me that she'd be interested in going hiking again when she got back, despite the cold.  This was a fairly significant revelation, since my impression of her trips with me this summer were something close to boredom.  I was hiking by myself until I had that bear encounter on the AT.  Since then, she has accompanied me.  I'm not sure if those two are related, but even if it wasn't as interesting to her as it was to me, I was happy to have her company.

She fractured her foot in October and since it took a distressingly long time to heal, she has been laid up, at least for hiking since then.  Now that she is showing interest again, I decided to take a practice cold weather hike today.

I went to a familiar place, the Manassas Battlefield, about 15 minutes south of home.  After checking in with the Ranger, I decided to take the long path, the 6.5-mile loop that hits mostly sites related to the second battle of the two that were fought on this same ground.

The temperatures would struggle to reach 40 (f) despite the brilliant sunshine.  I bundled up accordingly, layering a long-sleeve t-shirt under a thick hoodie topped with a lined jacket.  I had a knit stocking cap, the kind that covers cheeks and chin.  I wavered on the base layer, then decided that hiking would keep my legs warm.  I started out with gloves and liners, but the liners came off about an hour in, and the gloves alternately came off and on as conditions warranted.  Since it was so cold, I decided not to fill the Camelbak reservoir, but just take a few bottles of water.  

The longer of the two trails leaves the visitors center down the main driveway and then crosses Sudley road as you make your way up towards Chinn Ridge.  For the first mile, it's an asphalt roadway, which kinda doesn't really feel like hiking.  But eventually I got up to Chinn Ridge, make a left out of the parking area and headed into the woods.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Season of Hope*



*Johnstown (PA) Tribune-Democrat December 20, 2007
as "This season of hope"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

About 15 years ago, I received a phone call from a friend who owned an ad agency. It seemed that a local hospital board was in need of a Santa to hand out the Christmas bonuses at their meeting. I had nothing scheduled that night, and my friend had access to a Santa suit, so I accepted the offer. Since then, I’ve been privileged to wear that distinctive red and white outfit many times each season. The gigs have been many and diverse, parties, downtown festivals, meetings, conferences, and leading a motorcycle Toy Ride for the Salvation Army.

Over the years, I’ve talked to around a thousand children and adults around this time of year, basking in the glow of that special sense of joy which seems to permeate the Christmas season. In recent years, the increasingly diverse nature of our nation has led to a more secular cross-cultural kind of celebration of this “holiday” season. Whatever you choose to call it though, there is one element that is present in all celebrations: Hope.

On a cold, snowy December night, I was ensconced in the Santa chair at a local bank in Columbia, Missouri. The line of children and parents snaked across the expansive lobby and out onto the sidewalk. Mindful of how miserable it was for those waiting outside, I was doing my best to keep the line moving, trying to balance expediency against the need to make every child feel special in that brief time we had together. At one point, a man brought up his three children. Their eyes were lit with excitement and our conversations were animated as they related their wish lists. At one point, I glanced up at the father and was surprised to see on his face a look of sadness. While his kid’s eyes danced with joy, his eyes were haunted, dark orbs above gaunt cheeks. He obviously hadn’t slept well, if at all, and as I watched him, I could sense the pain of his burden.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Peace!

From Delta College Global Peace Studies
University Center, Michigan

Copyright © 2014
By Ralph F. Couey
Written Content Only.

The word “Peace” has a multitude of meanings and contexts from the cessation of conflict to those rare golden hours at home when the kids have gone to sleep. It is a word that is used most widely during the Christmas season.

In Hebrew, the word is Shalom, which covers quite a bit of ground. Wholeness, joy, freedom, harmony – both physical and spiritual. It can also mean community, reconciliation, as well as truth, justice, and humanity.

Christians have always associated this word with this particular season, mainly because of the story as it is told in the scriptures. Nobody will ever forget that moment in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when Linus stands on the stage and recites the passage from the second chapter of Luke…

“And there were in the same country shepherds, 
abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, 
and the Glory of the Lord shown round about them, 
and they were sore afraid.
But the Angel said unto them, “Fear not! 
For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy 
which shall be to all people. 
For unto you this day is born in the City of David, 
a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you: 
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes 
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the Angel 
a multitude of the heavenly host, 
praising God and saying, 
“Glory to God in the highest! 
And on earth, Peace; good will toward men!”

…and his stunningly simple denouement, 

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

And on earth, Peace.

Peace has so many meanings that it can be difficult to tie it down to one thing. I'm sure it means, at least in part, the end of war; conflict between nations.

As of this week, there are 43 armed conflicts occurring in the world. Some are familiar, thanks to the media coverage. Most though, are either unknown or ignored by most people. Whether known or unknown, acknowledged or ignored, these conflicts have resulted so far in 2014 in the deaths of nearly 120,000 humans.

Some of these conflicts, wars actually, are recent, starting just this year. Others have been raging for decades. The human toll is a staggering 6.8 million. That total only includes current ongoing conflicts, not the few hundred million or so who perished over the last 5,000 years.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Going Home*****

*Chicago Tribune
December 21, 2010
as "Time to go home"

KWGN TV/CW 2 Denver, CO
December 21, 2010
as "Time to go home"

*Somerset, PA Daily American 
as "Time to Go Home"
December 23, 2010

*Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette
December 23, 2010
as "Going Home for Christmas: 
Our Men and Women in Uniform are On Their Way"

*Waterbury, CT Republican-American
December 24, 2010
as "Wartime Songs Live on for the Holidays"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

It was October 1943, and the United States was almost two years into World War II.  The immediate dangers of 1942 had passed and some significant victories had been won.  But everyone knew that a lot of hard slogging still lay ahead before victory could be declared. 

Every day, those dreaded yellow telegrams kept coming.  And in those windows, a blue star turned to gold.

The coming Christmas season would be bittersweet.  Families would gather, their celebrations muted by the gaping absence of a son who was far away in a strange place, facing danger.  Sons who were still home would be leaving soon to join the fight.  And as the holidays approached, hearts separated by 10,000 miles would all feel the same wistful ache.

The world of popular music has a way of articulating the latent emotions of a particular time and place.  That October, a crooner named Bing Crosby released a song that put words to those tender feelings and dark fears.  “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was a wartime song, to be sure.  But the words have touched every generation since.

I am dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it's a long road back
I promise you

Monday, December 08, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent: Joy!

Copyright © 2014
by Ralph F. Couey

This time of the year is commonly referred to as “the season of joy.” There are so many things that shape that context. Nature has shed the riotous colors of autumn and gone into dormancy, covering the landscape in dreary browns and bare branches. Thus we await with great excitement the first snows of winter that return to the world a delightful artistry. The weather has turned colder, so we are not outside very often. So we make a special effort to spend time with friends under the guise of holiday parties. Mostly, though, we know we are approaching a time when our families will once again gather from across town, across the state, across the country, or across the oceans. For a precious few days, our houses will be crowded with laughter while the mists of memory drift among us.

A tree has been set up and decorated. As the days go by, brightly-colored packages begin to populate the once-empty space at the bottom. There is a happiness, yes. But there is also a growing sense of anticipation towards that early morning when children will race from their slumbers, impatiently urging grownups, still brushing sleep from their eyes and bravely understanding that today, at least, the coffee’s gonna have to wait.

To watch children opening presents on Christmas morning is to see joy. It can be a difficult thing to define, much like love. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent: Love

Copyright © 2014
by Ralph F.Couey

Why does love hurt?

How can it be that something so good, which feels so wonderful can become a knife to the heart?

Love is not a thing that begins suddenly. It is a journey, one that begins slowly and subtly, sometimes one doesn’t even realize that the journey has begun.

It is a journey less defined as an afternoon walk, and more like a long, sustained hike. Sometimes the way is easy, flat, level, the sun shining and the air comfortable. Other times, it becomes a steep climb, the trail strewn with large, sharp rocks. At times, the trail appears to split into multiple paths, forcing a choice which will define the remainder of the hike.

But whatever else it may seem, love means that whatever the conditions, the journey is never made alone.

We walk together, we climb together; together we ford the rapid streams. Together, we inch along precipitous cliffs, and persevere under storms, cold, or severe heat.

Always ahead is the destination. No one never knows exactly what or where that may be. This trail is not drawn clearly on any map. It must be made in faith.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Ian

Copyright © 2014
by Ralph F. Couey

Someone once described being a Grandparent as "all the joys of parenting with (almost) none of the responsibility."  That statement generally draws smiles, both from parents and grandparents alike.  Kidding aside, there is an indescribable joy about the relationship that grows and develops between grampas and grammas and those wonderful children.

My wife and I now can count 10 grandkids, a total which include one given up for adoption, and another, beset with multiple serious genetic problems, whom God decided was better off with Him.  Like many who share our situation, our adult children (why does that sound like such a oxymoron?) are scattered across the landscape, from Maryland to Colorado and California.  Still, we're better off than my parents were when I was in the Navy and my sister was teaching in Australia.  At least ours are all on the same continent.

Our son and his family are closest to us by distance, so by default we see more of his kids than the others.  And yes, we do feel badly about those whose distance means we only get to see them on Skype.  Still, retirement is almost upon us, and we intend to become road warriors.  Still it is a great joy to be able to have these three around quite often.  Diana, whom I've written of before, is, at age 8 growing into a lovely young lady.  She is smart (yeah, I know; nobody has a dumb grandchild) and lovely (all right, already!) and blessed with a heart full of sharing and love.  She makes friends easily and charms the socks off of everyone she meets.  Sophie, at 6 months,the newest model, is beginning to show off a delightful personality.  Ian is in the middle, three years old.  He is very much his father's son, his behaviors echoing that earlier edition to a degree that is kinda spooky.  He is lively and full of energy, not terribly unusual for a boy, but the thing that amazes and at times, stuns us is the remarkable things that come out of his mouth.

First Sunday of Advent: Hope

Copyright © 2014
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

The wind blows cold across a world torn in grief and weeping in sadness. Everywhere, the demons of anger and hate stalk among us, feeding the dark side within us all, urging us into conflict. Everywhere, the hungry, the homeless, and the hopeless lie in despair. From the huddled masses, the question drifts like a fog: “Is this the end?”

But, wait!

 Look! 


Do you see what I see?

In the east, a new star, dancing in the night! See how it lights up the sky? It beckons us to follow! Could this be the miracle we have all been waiting for?