Earlier this week, some guys from a local radio station named me their 2013 Turkey of the Year, all because of a column I'd written about my relationship with a former gang member in town. Apparently, they thought it fowl.
I know, I know. I was as stunned and surprised as you. Me? A turkey?
Hmm, maybe you shouldn't answer that.
"Is David Cook on drugs?" one reader recently emailed.
Either way, as awards go, this one made me pause. Reflect. Give thanks, even.
Sure, it's the season of gratitude, the time of kith and kin. During such misty-eyed days, it takes a strong man not to gush, blubber and blab. Thankfully, I am not that man.
I owe you, dearest reader, a monster-truck-sized thank you. These columns? Nobody forces you to read them. Nobody.
So for the times you do, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart, which some say is a bleeding heart, which others say beats like an emotional preteen's, which brings us to the point of today's column.
It's dedicated to all those who disagree: my critics, God love you.
How easy it is to thank the readers out there who agree with the ideas in this column. (Stop blushing, you two).
But on Thanksgiving, we should widen our table, for the spirit of today is rooted in common ground and the ties that bind. It's a day that brings things together: Pilgrims and Indians, shopping and football, whiskey and 11 o'clock in the morning.
So before we push away from the table with full bellies, let's remember we have plenty of reasons to be thankful for one other. Even the ornery ones who pull our opinions apart like a wishbone. Right now, I'm thinking of several.
"Are you that stupid?" emailed another reader.
I'll go first.
To all those gun-owners out there, thanks. Your dedication to protect our right to shoot, collect, buy, sell and conceal-carry firearms is admirable. I hope my zeal for the First Amendment is as strong as yours is for the Second.
To those who read the Bible in different ways than I do, thank you for reminding me of the importance of spiritual commitment. No one can call you lukewarm. No one can say you are without passion.
To those who consistently warn about the dangers of big government, I'm listening like never before. And so is the NSA. Debt, trade deficits, political discord, a nanny state, it goes on and on. We're stuffed in this country, and for your loud voice condemning government excess, bravo.
To those who believe in the death penalty, I humbly bow. We may disagree, but I am moved by your devotion for what you see as equitable punishment. We should all be so concerned with finding justice for victims of violence.
To those who condemn welfare, thanks for your faith in hard work and the value of an honest day's labor. Sometimes, callouses are worth a thousand words.
To those who mock idealism and criticize me for "tilting at windmills," then bless you. Even though we all need a little tilt in our step, it's important not to turn into Peter Pan, with feet that never touch the ground.
And to those of you who think I spend way too much time writing about gangs, well, your complaints don't fall on deaf ears. But gang violence is perhaps the biggest issue our Reconstructed city faces; the ways we think and speak about it reflect more about who we are than anything else.
If that makes me a turkey, so be it.
Let's then toast to hearty disagreement and the lessons we can learn from one another. Critics are the gizzard in the civic body, the ones who grind up ideas and opinions. Good. It takes all of us to sit around this American table, even if we do make a mess from time to time.
And if you happen to need any extra turkey, I know where one lives.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
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 ...