Near the end of his life, Pope John Paul II was seated on his chair at the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. He was in his eighties and suffering from Parkinson’s. He had trouble sitting up straight, and even holding up his head was a chore. Yet there he was, in front of hundreds of parishioners and visitors who filled the cathedral to capacity. Thousands, indeed millions more watched him on television outside in the square and around the world. He looked tired and rather glum—not an office-holder of stature, but an old man hunched by the many failings of his body.
I can’t remember the first time I met Arthur Alligood, but early on in our relationship, I nailed a catfish to his dad’s back fence.
Had my wife and I been born a hundred years ago, our lot might have been quite different. Our family has a history of bipolar disorder, you see. Mental illness was looked upon with even greater stigma in days of yore than today. The canon of schoolchild literature hailing from 1850 through the 1970s is littered with characters subject to one stripe of insanity or another. Mr. Rochester’s first wife in Jane Eyre, Conrad’s demigod Kurtz, Boo Radley, Robert Cormier’s Adam Farmer in I Am the Cheese, Mr. Hyde, and the tragic cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest all come to mind.
My two youngest children sit together on the floor in a bedroom. They spend their days playing beside each other with a myriad of toys, co-imagining worlds filled with talking construction equipment, neon-hued horses, and plot lines that range from pedestrian to strange and violent, often within seconds. It’s fun to stand around the corner and listen to them, but invariably, I have to intervene and referee a dispute.
Kind words, and kind hands, I say. We share our things.
If you wander through downtown Knoxville on a Wednesday or Saturday morning from May to November, you will likely chance upon the Market Square Farmers’ Market, and what a happy accident it will be. Your eye will feast upon a kaleidoscope of homegrown vegetables. Heirloom tomatoes bejewel the boxes and crates, their variegated skins like the cloud-cover of exotic planets. Peppers of all sizes and colors spill out from baskets, drawing the brave and foolhardy with mythic names like Carolina Reaper and Trinidad Scorpion. Greens of every shade festoon the tables.