Our government has shut down.
Obamacare has begun.
Fireballs are streaking across the Chattanooga sky.
"It's the end of the world as we know it," R.E.M. once sang. "And I feel fine."
But we Americans don't. And haven't for a long time. And won't ... until a few fundamental things change.
"What they should really do is release all the mafia dons and put five in charge of Wall Street and five in charge of the Senate and five in charge of the Congress, and then when something gets screwed up, like, you know, the country being scared to death and all of our money being taken from us, we'd at least know who to put in jail," one reader suggested Tuesday morning.
Hmmm. Harry Reid, let us make you an offer you can't refuse.
If that idea doesn't fix things, these four might:
First: Refuse to have enemies.
This government shutdown is a perfect symbol for the perfect storm of negativity, cynicism and division that runs like wild horses across our country. The Washington freeze is merely a symptom, the way a cyst or lump can reflect deeper problems.
It is not that we shouldn't argue or debate. Fire in the blood is part of any democracy. But we've become a nation of Van Goghs, cutting off our own ears, unable and unwilling to listen to one another.
A quick pass-fail quiz: How often do you intentionally seek out the political opinions of others who see things differently from you? Not to insult or embarrass, but to simply listen, expanding your mind into a bigger container to hold even more political ideas?
We have become infected with a disease some future doctors will identify as Crossfire fever. Named after the longtime CNN show based solely on unending arguments, the fever spreads as we continue to yell more and listen less.
(In the Bible, God punished the big-talking Zacharias by turning him mute for nine months. Oh Lord, if thee would only direct such attention to some of the talking heads down here today.)
People hate Obama in the same way others hated Bush in the same way others will hate the next president. It is one very long grudge match, and lobbyists, think tankers and adolescent politicians play maliciously on this dynamic like Nero with a fiddle.
So, enough is enough is enough.
By refusing to have political enemies, we karate-chop the ideological ice floe of that divides us. We say to one another: yes, we may have ideological differences, but that which unites us is far better than that which divides us.
Like samurais of old, we can bow to one another even as we do political battle. We've gotten quite good at the battling, but pretty lame at the bowing.
Second: tell your politician you're expecting much more out of him or her. More public displays of civility, less adolescence. If we the people can stop the U.S. government from bombing Syria, we can stop this.
Third: tell Big Media the same thing.
Fourth: be like Barry Wilson.
Tuesday morning, as our government shut itself down, Wilson (more conservative than liberal) and I (not quite) drank coffee together, sharing ideas, swapping stories and, above all, listening to one another.
Wilson, now retired in Chattanooga, had a wonderful career in football. A player under Vince Dooley at Georgia, a coach at multiple schools throughout the South, including the Florida team that won the 1996 national championship (don't hold that against him), Wilson may be proudest of the time he spent in Washington in the late 1960s.
He guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"Twenty four hours at a time," he said.
It was during the Vietnam War. Wilson, a relief commander with the U.S. Army's prestigious 3rd Infantry Regiment, was charged with overseeing a four-man team that stood watch over the Washington D.C. tomb.
"Pride is the key word," he said. "It was because of what we represented, not who we were as individuals."
Bingo. Double-down on that idea. Wilson's time at the tomb instilled in him a vision for American politics, where today's self-centered, look-at-me gaze is replaced by a wider, more selfless perspective. Not just me and my party, but all of America.
"The whole country needs to listen and digest the opinions of others," Wilson said. "Most of us are pretty decent people, but we're not listening to each other."
That can end.
And we'll feel so much finer when it does.
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 ...