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Staff Photo / The Tennessee River Gorge is seen from Snooper's Rock at Prentice Cooper State Park on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

It feels like a very long funeral in America right now. So much heartache and hurt. Often, it seems more than we can bear.

We long for a political system built on wisdom, yet so often, we receive the opposite. The initial act of violence in Uvalde, Texas, for example, is followed by a second act of violence: political dysfunction. Politics has become abusive, a form of civic trauma as we ache for healing and solutions, yet instead, encounter even more violence, greed and delusion. We are a nation run by immature men and women who have yet to grow up, the poet Robert Bly wrote.

Yes, we need gun control.

We also need social media control.

In such a megaphone culture, where so many voices are saying nothing, I long for silence.

Not the cowardly silence of complicity, but contemplation and solitude as intentional responses. What has become of our public square? These feel like Tower of Babel times. If you read one essay this summer, make it Jonathan Haidt's "Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid."

"The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit," he writes in The Atlantic. "Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past."

Can the wisdom of silence respond to that disorientation?

Perhaps it is time to find out.

***

Some 25 years ago, I walked into my first newsroom; it was love at first sight, this buzzing, heady ecosystem of deadline energy, where all these creative forces — reporting, writing, photography, design, editing — merge in a symphony of civic focus that is the Chattanooga fourth estate.

I've never been a soldier or emergency room nurse, but I've been a journalist, and I've witnessed my colleagues commit their lives to the greater good.

In 2011, I began writing this column, a dream since reading back-page Rick Reilly in 1980's "Sports Illustrated." A good columnist belongs to the community, so I tried to write from the street, not the tower, with dirt and ink under my fingernails. Drawn to untold stories and unlikely lights shining in forgotten places, I wrote some 1,000 columns, totaling more than 500 yards of newsprint. I published a long par 5.

Lately, there's not as much dirt under my nails. My column has felt removed and less energetic. Be honest: You've noticed it, too.

For more than 4,000 days, I've been paid to have something to say. Strangely, I've grown weary of opinions, especially my own.

I find myself tired in undeniable ways. A reservoir once full in me has run dry. Drawn to the spotlight energy of this job, I now want the opposite of "Cheers": a place where nobody knows my name.

It's time I step away from this column, at least for a while. I've struggled with this decision for months, because I write out of love for so many of you, and walking away feels like an abnegation of duty and responsibility.

Yet in trying to attend to the wounds of this city, it seems I have neglected my own.

Over these 11 years, I tried to fight for the right things and support good and brave people, but I sometimes failed. I apologize when my words were problematic, harmful or foolish. It is my great regret.

I am grateful for my critics, who became my inadvertent friends, helping me see perspectives — like my own blind spots — I would have otherwise missed.

I do stand firm in one area: the profound need to understand race in this city. St. Paul says to work out salvation through fear and trembling, and much of my salvation was found through seeing my conditioning and racist tendencies as a white Southern man. The voices of Black women and men can be a North Star of sorts, guiding us towards a similar salvation found in community, truth and justice. There is such potential here. As Dr. Eddie Glaude proclaimed during the Ed Johnson Memorial weekend: "The answer to the riddle of America resides in the South."

From so many Black Chattanoogans, I have received undeserved patience, friendship and a wisdom that attempts to articulate both problems and solutions. (T., you are the first and last.) I tried to write this often, but it never seemed enough.

My largest thanks to you, the best of companions, this city's readers. After 11 years of immeasurable kindness from you, I am reminded of what never needs be forgotten: A good heart beats in this city.

Finally, Chris Vass, you have been my editor and mentor for 25 years. You are strong in all the right places, representing a fiercely unflinching devotion to honesty and integrity. You will always be my standard of Chattanooga journalism. And you are a damn good friend. Without you, I would not be me.

I have one more story to tell. It will run in two Sundays on the Perspective section front.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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