The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Ralph Couey

January 22, 2011

RALPH COUEY | The beauty of hope

— It was an eventful week. On Monday, Jan. 10, after about nine months of thoughtful consideration and introspection, I had Lap-Band surgery. This procedure places an adjustable band around the upper part of the stomach, reducing its useable size to about three-quarters of a cup. 

I went home on Tuesday, and during the night, our son and daughter-in-law gave birth to a son, who they named Ian Robert. 

As disparate as these two occasions may seem, they are linked by a strong hope for the future.

On Wednesday, my wife poured me into our vehicle and we headed for Baltimore. Arriving at the hospital, we found our new grandson wrapped in blankets and sleeping peacefully. Picking up that tiny bundle of soft flannel and fragile human, I once again experienced the awe and wonder, and the joy, of a new life.

It was an emotional moment. A little over a year ago in California, I had held another new life. Our granddaughter, Zoe, however, beset with multiple medical problems, passed away only 51/2 months later. Our oldest daughter and her husband were devastated, and we have all tried hard to understand the meaning and purpose behind that loss. But on this night, we once again celebrated the miracle.

As he rested peacefully in my arms, I found myself asking all the questions that normally occur in that moment.  Where would he go?

What would he do? What would be the story of this new life? 

The modern world changes with shocking rapidity. The world we live in now is not one I could have possibly imagined when my children were born 25 to 30 years ago. And so I know that the world Ian lives in 20 years hence will be altogether different from the one I know today. Things may be better; they may be much worse.

There’s simply no way to tell. As the inestimable Yoda once said, “Always in motion the future is.” All we can do, as parents and grandparents, is to make sure that little Ian is raised to be nimble and proactive so he can ride the crest of history’s wave. 

For my own part, this surgery represents a major fork in the road. It was a tough decision to make, but two heart incidents in 2010 convinced me that it was time for drastic measures. 

My old life is over. I have to be compliant with an entirely new set of rules. If I eat too much of the wrong things, the stomach will stretch, and I’ll be back where I started. The lap band is, after all, not a solution; it is a tool, albeit a powerful one.  Success or failure is squarely in my hands. The doctor has done his job; I now have to do mine.

My motivation is clear. I want my life to last long enough to see Ian’s new world. I want to be around as all our grandchildren take their first steps into adulthood. I want to be there when they need advice, a hug, or maybe just a good story. Mainly, I want to help them with their dreams; I want to help them understand that they can steer their future; that they can determine their destiny.

There are two quotes that apply. One is by Eleanor Roosevelt:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

And the other by Robert Kennedy:

“The future does not belong to those who are satisfied with today.”

The plans for a better tomorrow are grounded in the decisions we make now. Only by changing today can we alter tomorrow. It all boils down to the decisions we have to face, and our willingness to make them. The future we want won’t happen by itself. I guess that’s the difference between dreams and hopes. Hope is a dream that is being worked on.

Hope can be found in the beauty of new life, or the opportunity of a new situation. Either way, we don’t have to accept what everyone else predicts. The theme that runs through the “Terminator” movie franchise is this: “The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

We can all control our destiny. 

It only requires the courage to step up and take the wheel.

Ralph Couey is a freelance writer living in Somerset.

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