published Monday, October 24th, 2011

Cook: Precious news of our lives

Her name was Precious.

She was born five years ago tomorrow, on Oct. 25, 2006.

Born into this beautiful world where sunrises are sometimes the color of pumpkins, where a good song can make so many things all right, and where all the best moments are free: holding hands, seventh-inning stretches and the love of an old dog wagging its tail.

Born into this ugly world where people curl up to sleep under bridges, and pills are popped, pipes are smoked and gunshot victims bleed all over emergency room floors.

A world where children watch their fathers beat their mothers, where decisions in big offices make too many folks unemployed who shouldn't be, and each day, too many tears fall.

Precious was born into this world that one October day.

She was gone from it the next.

Her life on this earth -- both beautiful and ugly -- lasted one day. Twenty-four hours. Maybe not even that long.

I first encountered Precious Myangel Vann a few years ago, wandering through the Cofer Cemetery near Jenkins Road. It's the potter's field of Chattanooga, the place where we bury the poorest of the poor, our neighbors who can't afford this life or even the journey into the next one.

Placed in pressboard coffins, the bodies buried at Cofer Cemetery are lowered six feet into the earth in graves dug by Silverdale Detention Center prisoners, who sometimes even serve as pallbearers.

Since kneeling down in the faded grass near her tombstone, I've come to see Precious as a symbol. A reminder of what matters in life, and what does not. A reminder that the least of these among us are as important -- profoundly important -- as the largest of these.

Precious is as important as Steve Jobs, Lauren Alaina and Bob Corker.

My job as city columnist is to write about local headlines, to comment on the news of the area. There are many stories out there from which to choose: voting identification, the eligibility of certain high school athletes, the mayor's quest for metro government, local gun crime, the six-month anniversary of the April tornadoes.

But today, Precious gets the headline. Today, as a way to honor all the small and forgotten things in life, Precious is news.

"There are no ordinary people," writes C.S. Lewis. "You have never talked to a mere mortal."

I think we forget this. I think we forget our connection to one another, the dignity and divinity each of us possesses.

The veteran. The gang member. The mayor. The prisoner, ball player, Alzheimer's patient, unborn fetus, activist getting arrested. The police officer doing the arresting.

The kid in the back row. The quiet man in the cubicle next door. The fast-walking, fast-talking, high-heeled woman in a power suit. The referee at the Friday night game. The guy in the fast car riding your bumper. The mother pushing her son in the swing. The grandfather resting in the sun.

And the little girl, most sweetly named, who helps us remember that no life should ever be forgotten.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org.

about David Cook...

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 ...

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tdempsey said...

Thank you, David, for reminding us, in this touching piece on Precious, that attention is the currency of tangible pursuits and neither increases nor decreases the value of a life. Not an unfamiliar message to be sure, but one that routinely confounds most of us as we're pressed into sacrificial service of others. If we could just keep Precious in mind when our circumstances invite us into service, and suffer a little with those that are suffering a lot, I'm convinced we would find more of what we are actually looking for in all of our busyness here on earth.

October 24, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.
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