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Last week, my junior English class read “American History.” The text was a personal narrative written by Judith Ortiz Cofer – the child of Puerto Rican immigrants. The story was written as a reflection by the author on the Kennedy assassination and how that tragic event affected her parents and other adults in the 1960s. 

Layered throughout the story were subtle but powerful symbols connected to the idea of hope – President Kennedy, a house next door to an apartment complex, and newly fallen snow. The symbols themselves, if listed and explained out of context, would only be commonalities with nothing exceptional or personal attached to them. However, symbolism is most potent when it’s bound to everyday things. Synthesizing those symbols and relating them to the context of the reader’s personal life and the story’s context is where the challenge lies when teaching students.

Learning isn’t about memorizing information; learning is finding ways to take the information and connect it to the world around you and then form an opinion or idea based on that information and the context in which it exists. The true joy of teaching literature (or any text) is when students can take the information provided, understand the message of the text, and then connect those ideas to their personal lives and the world in which they live. There is no standardized test available that can measure that.

Synthesizing information is a higher-order thinking skill that combines separate ideas into a nuanced and complex thought system based on a given topic. It requires information first but then asks the individual to take that information to the next level. I had one of these moments last Saturday in Downtown Jackson.

I’ve always appreciated some aspects of the one-mile radius where I live – my job (JCM), my gym (The Lift), places for groceries (Grubb’s, The Farmer’s Market), places to eat, and places to drink. Rarely, however, have I linked these places in a way that maximizes their positive impact on my life.

Last Saturday, my girlfriend Laura and I started our day with a yoga class at The Lift. Keith Davis guided us through the hour of breathing, stretching, and worshipping. It was church without the trauma, a proper place of healing. If you’ve never attended a class led by Keith, your soul probably isn’t reaching its full potential. If yoga ain’t your thing, try and at least have a conversation with Keith. Jackson is lucky to have him.

When our yoga class ended, Laura and I made our way to the farmers’ market. Over the last few months, we’ve made it a tradition to buy all of our food for the weekend there. We buy fresh vegetables – squash, potatoes, and zucchini. We purchase our meat – bone-in pork chops, bacon, and chorizo. We walk under the pavilion, stopping to talk to people we know.

Because Laura may have a slight addiction to seltzers, we have to wander down the hill to Grubb’s to buy a few cases. While there, we stock up on some eggs, fruit, turkey, bread, and chips to round out our weekend supply of food. 

After our stop at Grubb’s on this particular Saturday, we traveled east across Highland to Jackson’s Kitchen and Catering for brunch. On other Saturdays, it’s been Turntable or a walk to Garner Blue to look around. One Saturday, we ate at Rock-N-Dough. Each weekend offers something different.

After a return trip to The Lift that afternoon, we unpacked our food haul from the farmers’ market and started cooking supper. Side note: when the menu consists of purple hull peas, pork chops in a cast iron skillet, and fried okra, it’s called SUPPER. 

I’ll spare the details of the recipes used, but as we were sipping bourbon and listening to Tyler Childers while we cooked, I had my moment of synthesis.

I’ve long appreciated the individual elements of my unique place in our community – the homes, the trees, and the buildings downtown. I had never entirely combined all the pieces into a whole picture, though.

On any given Saturday morning, I can walk to the farmers’ market, pick out my food, and cook it the same night. I can walk to my gym, get a good workout, or attend a yoga class. From that area, I can shop downtown or grab coffee at Turntable. All of this is walkable from midtown.

With this recognition also comes the admission of privilege. Not everyone can afford a gym membership, and homes in midtown are getting more expensive every day. The people who most need access to healthy food and healthy lifestyles are often the people who don’t have it. Educating everyone about a healthy lifestyle is essential, but providing access to that lifestyle is paramount. I’m simultaneously appreciative of my micro-community but also aware that it’s a privilege afforded to me. The rich get richer, and the healthier get healthier.

When I bought my home on Division Avenue in 2013, I bought it because it was affordable; I bought it because I loved the socio-economic diversity of midtown. I know that I got lucky. I know now that I am incredibly fortunate to have such close access to things in my life that bring me health and joy. 

Cheers to The Lift and the Farmers’ Market. Cheers to Keith Davis and all the special people who create and inhabit this diverse space of mental and physical health. Cheers to enlightenment and synthesis and appreciating the things that bring life and joy. Cheers to Jackson and the hope we can provide healthy spaces for everyone.

October 6, 2023

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