In the barroom of my soul, it was closing time. Last call. The bill was due and all I had was lint in my turned-out pockets.
Many years ago, I was wedged in that tight spot between one chapter of life and the next. Between the known and the unknown. Behind me was a five-year collection of too many late nights and wasted days — at the time I called it college — and in front of me was, well, the future.
Often when change comes knocking, I plant my feet on the floor and bar the door.
So I had to be pushed, pulled, squeezed, suffocated, twisted and torqued into surrendering. I put up a good fight, but Something Much Stronger Than Me won, and maybe you know the feeling of being broken by forces much greater than you to make room for better ways of living.
Life kicks you in the pants in order to save you. And that was when I finally understood the good things in life.
Like independence. Freedom. How to pursue happiness.
Which is why I love this day so much. We’ve all had days in our life that model the Fourth of July story. The struggle for independence: against addiction, mounting debt, mothers-in-law. The dethroning of some unjust power: a bad boss, an over-controlling school board, former University of Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton.
Putting your neck on the line for courageous ideas: English should be our official language, gay Americans should have the right to marry, less filling never means better taste.
Today may be filled with Roman candles in one hand and barbecue on floppy paper plates in the other, but celebrating independence is one thing our nation does best. Rightfully so.
We also need a Dependence Day. Let me explain.
Chattanooga was recently voted The Best Town Ever. Receiving nearly 7,500 online votes (I wonder how many times folks at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce voted), the Scenic City edged out Tucson, Ariz., (5,925 votes) and Madison, Wis., (750 votes) for the early lead in the Outside magazine contest.
I’m not sure this is a good thing.
I think we should appoint our best spokesperson — is Lauren Alaina free? — and politely tell Outside magazine to remove us from the contest. Thanks, but no thanks.
The Best Town Ever?
We’re too good a city for that.
Like young George Washington learned under the cherry tree: Lying stinks. In five minutes, you and I could make a long grocery list of the problems we face in this city, and it would be monstrously dishonest to accept a Best Town Ever award when there are too many Chattanoogans for whom the sun never shines.
Parts of this city are indeed The Best Ever, but there are other neighborhoods so troubled as to earn the You Would Not Drive a Fast Car Through for One Hundred Dollars Award. As long as both exist, all of us are affected.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this town and have loved it for decades. But the award suggests that we Chattanoogans are independent of one another. If the mountain biking is excellent on Raccoon Mountain, then it does not matter how many meth labs are cooking nearby or how polluted the river is in the valley below.
And that is simply not true.
We are dependent on each other. East Brainerd is connected to Alton Park, and Signal Mountain belongs to Lookout Valley. Like the old poet says: No man is an island.
This was made clear in the wake of the April tornadoes. It was hard to find anyone in Chattanooga who did not do something for someone somewhere — even if they didn’t know them or live near them. We were all neighbors.
Tonight, go back for seconds or thirds of banana pudding. Crane your neck back to watch the fireworks explode. We are independent. Thank God.
But let us not forget that declaring independence was a collective action by the colonies: all for one, one for all.
Emerging out of my soul’s barroom, I was helped by folks in this city. My welfare was as important as their own. All for one, one for all.
That’s the best way to judge a town.
David Cook can be reached at email@example.com.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...