A prophet is someone who can not only predict the future, but can see the truth around him.

Michael Knowles

By Dr. Jim Ferguson
Fifteen years and 800 essays ago, Steve Hunley approached me about being a columnist for his newspaper, The Knoxville Focus. I was flattered but told Mr. Hunley I had minimal writing experience, having written only a half dozen opinion pieces for the Sentinel years ago. He countered by observing I had published a novel (Epiphany 2007). So, I asked him what he suggested I write about and he said, “Anything you want.” So, I discussed the offer with my wife, Becky, and ultimately decided to give it a try. And that’s how The Doctor Is In began more than eight hundred thousand words ago.

The column has evolved just as I have changed over the years. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that everything changes. Admittedly, I once wrote more about medical issues. But after a few years, I realized there was only a finite number of topics readers would find interesting or that would even hold my own attention. Furthermore, an opinion column should not replace your personal doctor’s advice or that of the Mayo Clinic!

There is more to this Doctor than medicine. So, I write about what currently interests me, including what’s going on in my life, the country and the world.

Imagine Knoxville and the surrounding county as a city-state analogous to the ancient city-states of Athens, Carthage or Thebes. In antiquity, a Greek city-state was called a polis. Hence, we get the word politics, which describes the workings of the polis. We live in a bigger community than a polis; we live in a nation-state, the USA.

Politician Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” I agree. My politics begin at home and expand outward in concentric circles to include town, state, country and then the world. As a result, my essays often include politics and reference historical issues.

I’m sure I repeat myself at times, but sometimes things should be repeated for emphasis. The Bible often uses repetition because ancient Hebrew did not have punctuation, such as exclamation marks. Historians believe punctuation evolved to indicate how the written word should be read aloud. In fact, a period at the end of this sentence derives from the Latin word punctus or point.

If repetition creeps into my columns, it is because they are not designed to be research papers with footnotes. I have published scientific papers. But that type of prose is dry as toast and unsuitable for the Focus.

I once worried that I would run out of things to say. It hasn’t happened. And since I also write about music, cinema, the arts, spirituality, philosophy and science, I doubt that I will be stumped anytime soon. I have also written about travel, since throughout my life I had a wanderlust. That has dissipated, and now I relive my journeys by traveling in my mind.

I don’t think retelling stories is wrong as long as they are presented in a new or interesting way. I love listening to my favorite pieces of music again and again. And I have a stash of favorite movies which bring me joy over and over again.

As spring bursts forth around us, I’m relishing daffodils and the chartreuse of new growth. I challenge you to “google” and read the last stanza of William Wadsworth’s beautiful poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud and we can share the vision of an “inward eye.” Next, read Robert Frost’s evocative paean to spring, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Magical metaphors and beautiful wordsmithing!

Sometimes, I think my essays are becoming too stylized or predictable. But I’ll bet you didn’t expect the above poetic references!

There is a woman at church, who tells me she has trouble finding the theme of my essays. Obviously, the title is an indication of an essay’s direction. I collect quotes and about a year ago I started using quotes as headers for my essays. Like the title, headers are used to grab a reader’s attention and to introduce a thematic focus. Sometimes the purpose of an essay is obvious. At other times it may be a bit enigmatic and thoughtful reflection is necessary. Good!

The recent storms caused me to recall the adage of “March coming in like a lion.” In grammar school, I was introduced to that observation in Laura Ingalls’ books. These days I don’t think kids read Ingalls and that’s unfortunate. Perhaps “A Little House in the Woods” or “A Little House on the Prairie” are dated, but I believe the concepts of family and American virtues are timeless and superior to sexually oriented books.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting upon Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.” The Frenchman toured America in the 1830s and wrote about American uniqueness, including the importance of Christianity which he said, “facilitates the use of freedom.” Tocqueville considered religion “the first American political institution.” Tocqueville saw American small villages and local churches as fostering self-governance because there were no lords, kings or even historical traditions in the New World. But perhaps of most importance, there existed in America an equality of conditions and opportunities. There was no aristocracy, only meritocracy; people were not frozen in a class due to birth or conditions.

Recently, I thought about Tocqueville as I read about Bill Maher’s interview with Bernie Sanders. The self-described Democrat-Socialist was asked about equality and then asked to explain the difference between equality and equity, the Democrat buzzword and mantra. Sanders could not define equity. So, Maher explained to the “Senator” that equity is legislated equal outcomes. Whereas equality of opportunities is guaranteed by law and the Constitution.

The tide continues to shift as the truth keeps trickling out. The week before last it was the Covid origin revelations. Now, it’s the January 6th video tapes. The truth is, the media and the government “tells us A story rather than THE story.” All the while Biden keeps “stumbling,” trains keep derailing and China keeps threatening. Wake up America.