It dawned on me recently that as of this fall, it has been 17 years since I moved into the freshman dorms at Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi. I never really ended up back in my nearby hometown, working summer jobs or internships, so that is the moment in my life that I claim as the time I officially moved to Jackson and began making it my home.
The reason this is notable is because it marks exactly half of my life that I’ve spent living in the capital city. I haven’t always truly considered myself a “Jacksonian”, as it took time to fully discover my love for the city, but in these past 17 years I have fallen in love with this place and tried to live here with purpose, trying to invest in making it a better place to live.
Chances are, you’re at least halfway familiar with Jackson, especially as it has recently found itself in the national spotlight. And yes, as the reports say, our public water system is an absolute failure, offering entirely unreliable water service to the capital city. No, these recent failures that made the news don’t mean that the entire city is forced to live without access to water, as it is often reported, but there have been large portions of the city (especially those living farther away from the main plant) who did lose water access for quite some time. Our water has never been to the quality level of Flint, Michigan, where water ended up entirely unhealthy and endangering an entire population. We’ve always had water that lived under acceptable drinking conditions, though the federal definition of “acceptable” doesn’t mean good. But you can go just about anywhere in the country and find people drinking water from a filter they keep on hand instead of straight out of the pipes.
My point is that it’s a complicated issue, this Water Crisis. Depending on who you listen to on the news, it’s either the city governments fault, or the state government’s fault, or the fault of whoever is unlucky enough to walk in front of the finger pointing. Those of us who have lived here will tell you that it’s everybody’s fault, though I don’t actually want to write about water. I want to write about love in a crappy situation.
Being here, investing here, living on purpose here, often feels like a toxic relationship. 17 years of effort to be faced with the same poor infrastructure issues that have been present since before I even arrived here can be exhausting. It can be easy to look at the hard work and see little or no reward, as you’re battling against decades of problems and decades of people not caring or downright hating this city. There are many times I look around and wonder why I’m still here. There are many people who left that I feel angry at for giving up, but there are just as many times that I feel so tired I understand exactly why they did it.
Much like the water situation, it’s complicated.
When I look a closer at the things I was originally drawn to about this place, I see things through less tired eyes. I see the community I have here, the relationships that make it worthwhile. I see the fact I convinced my wife, born and raised on the other side of the country, that this is a place worth living purposefully in. In return, her sister and brother-in-law last year decided the same, moving here and trying to do their part. I see the concerts, the block parties, the events and festivals, the local restaurants and life that make it worthwhile.
Through those fresher eyes, living feels a lot less like a toxic relationship and a lot more like caring for a family member or for somebody in the community who has fallen on hard times. It never really should be looked at the same way I look at, say, a marriage or dating relationship, a partnership between equals, because it’s not that kind of relationship at all. It more favors a thankfulness toward somebody who took care of me when I needed a home, a repaying of the favors shown to me, a caring for less fortunate members of society. Simply put, it’s all the things that don’t come naturally to us as humans who demand that relationships must offer us something in return for what we put into it. Sometimes, we won’t get anything out of our service or our sacrifice and that’s okay in these relationships. As Christians, I think that’s kind of the point.
It’s easy for me to say all of this. I’m not trying to run a restaurant and I don’t live in one of the older, more run-down areas of the city. I know there are unique challenges that face many other people, and I know there is unique fatigue that affects countless others who have been through much more than I have. Like I said, there are a lot of people who get tired and leave and I understand it, I really do.
The reason I write this, though, is because I’ve always felt a strong, inescapable calling to live here and to do so purposefully. To live with meaning behind my existence, a reason behind my physical presence in the community. I’m not going to pretend to be a community leader, to be an active volunteer, or to be a community organizer. I’m nothing more than a person who gives a crap, a Mississippian who actually cares. I’m nothing more than somebody who shows up to concerts, who frequents restaurants, who spends his free time at the local watering holes chatting with others, who invites friends from out of town and drives them around to show off his beautiful, broken city.
There’s something to be said about doing nothing more than caring, something about living purposefully. There’s something worthwhile, even when I’m tired.