I often think of the power of words. The words others use to you about you, the words you use. The words that came before us and the words that will come long after we’re gone.
The very same tool that can inspire and lead to greatness also can be used to cut down, leaving only rubble where something wonderful should have stood.
Jackson could be either of those, and the power is in those who call it home.
The words we use when we talk about the place we live are heard by others, and, whether we’d like to admit it or not, probably influence, at some point or another, the way those people feel.
I’ve lived in West Tennessee my entire life. In my twenty-three years here, I’ve spoken a lot of words about this home of ours, and as much as I wish that they were all happy—teeming with positivity—I know that isn’t how the story goes.
In January 2015, my senior year at Union University, I drove away from the grassy fields and familiarity of Jackson, boarded a plane, and studied in Paris, France. The big adventure that I had always complained that Jackson lacked was suddenly smacking me in the face at every intersection.
It didn’t take me long to realize, though, that whatever problems I thought Jackson had could be matched by any place I would visit.
Whatever it is that we run away from always catches up with us because it lives inside us. The words dripping with distain that we use to talk about any point on a map often say more about us than our homes.
I had many big decisions coming up about my future. I would soon graduate college and pick the place where I would start my life. But all of the big cities that had before looked so shiny in my mind’s eye were starting to lose their luster. I started to look at home a little differently.
The words I used to talk about Jackson started to change, and I saw a real opportunity to witness the city’s story be written—and, more importantly, be a part of it.
I think that’s what ultimately motivated me to stay. I knew if I left I wouldn’t get to be part of the way Jackson writes its story. I wouldn’t get to see firsthand the wave of hope spreading across the town. This was the story I was most invested in: ours.
Here, we get to put pen to paper instead of simply sitting cross-legged on the floor listening to someone else read aloud the words to describe something that is every bit ours as it is theirs.
None of us knows how the story ends, but the words we use can change how future chapters are written. Our words will be read by those who come after us, long after we’re gone.
We are the authors, and this is our story. This is our Jackson.
Chelsea-Catherine Cobb is a Jackson native and 2015 Union University graduate with a degree in Public Relations and French. She loves a strong cup of coffee, antique shopping, watching Jeopardy, writing, and meeting others who call Jackson home. Tell Chelsea you love cats, and you'll make a friend for life.
Header image by Katie Howerton.