Gravity, the force that an object exerts on those things around it, is directly proportional to its mass. This is basic physics and one of the most basic principles that shape our physical world. It is the reason why our world is the way it is, but there are other types of gravity beyond a physical force pulling us constantly toward the center of the earth.
I have often in conversations with people about living in Jackson, heard the city described as a black hole or they feel like it is quicksand, and while they meant these statements to be in some way derogatory they are the exact opposite of that. Statements like these should remind us of the way that cities should act and encourage us to remain there. These are marks of the vitality and health of our own city. Communities are both physical locations and at the same time in their truest sense they are far more than just this. They can be moved or change their appearance. The physical objects and people they are made of come and go in a constant cycle of change, but it is this substance out of which communities are made that like all matter pulls us toward itself. And while this pull is not a physical attraction, though it sure feels like it sometimes, being rather emotional and spiritual its strength is not lessened because of this.
I would be lying if I did not admit that I have often felt the same way, and still do sometimes. There are things about being in Jackson that I might find irksome, or some other place might seem to have so many more offerings that it would be easy to become discontent with this place, but I have spent time in Los Angeles, London, Paris, and Rome. There are few cities that can offer more in the way of amenities that might entice, me in particular, but I never found myself loving those places the way I do this one. Eventually, I began to ask myself why this was. Why am I still here?
The answer is Gravity. We, my family and I, are kept here through the constant pull and attraction of the relationships that we have made, and as I have thought about it, I think this is one of the best possible reasons to be somewhere. This is any city’s highest goal, as a fostering place for the development and flourishing of communities that will bind their citizens ever closer and closer together and by extension to itself. For cities to do this is a matter of self-preservation, and if they fail to do this they will dwindle until they are shells of their former selves, or in more extreme cases they will die.
This used to be much more common fact of life. Most people were born and lived and died in the same place. It was an unusual person or unusual circumstance that caused someone to uproot themselves and move to a new and unfamiliar place. We are so accustomed to this now that I think we have become in many ways calloused to the effects that it can have on us. When we leave a place, we wound ourselves; the relationships that we have built and poured ourselves into are damaged, and therefore so are we. We lose large parts of who we are in leaving home, friends, and family. This process of losing is not always equal to the perceived gains that come with moving.
This is the reason we are still here. For over ten years my wife and I together have a created a life here. We are invested in multiple communities: religious, educational, personal, and what is the gain from leaving? Every little while as we sit and talk about our future thoughts and plans, this is the center of our discussion, the weighing formulation whose end product has always kept us here, kept us investing in these communities. And that doesn’t mean that it might not change at some point, and the gain of leaving might become greater than the pull of stay, but time does has a cumulative effect.
The fact that there are so many people in our city who feel like they might in some ways think that they should leave but do not want to is a powerful statement about the present health of the city and its future. The city in spite of numerous problems (and let’s be honest, all cities have numerous problems; we just don’t see them because we don’t live there) has created a host of communities that pull the inhabitants of the city constantly back toward its center every time they might think about leaving. It is not in the number of new people a city attracts that measures its success, but rather in number and happiness of those it retains.
Kevin Vailes teaches whatever they ask him at the Augustine School in Jackson, though if he had his choice he would spend his time ruminating on the intricate complexities of the classical world and trying to get his Latin students to study their vocabulary. Kevin grew up in and around Jackson and went to Union University where he met his best friend and wife Elizabeth. They live in the Jackson’s historic LANA neighborhood in a 100+ year-old bungalow with their five children. He believes that stories are what bind us together and cause us to love and care for something, and he hopes that in sharing Jackson’s stories with you, you will fall in love with Jackson and care about it too.
Header image by Katie Howerton.