Experiencing the Summer End
What is it about summer? Why do I always feel as if I am chasing the impossible through the long days of sunshine and fireflies? Are we still trying to find our way back to childhood? Images of fireflies illuminating my backyard as I attempt to catch them in a Mason Jar and the overwhelming scent of honeysuckle drifting through the air are burned on my brain. (P.S.A. fireflies, or lightning bugs … dealer’s choice, do not do well in a Mason Jar. The poor little suckers will be dead by sunrise. R.I.P. to the hundreds I’ve killed.) I know those moments in life are few and perhaps that is why we cling to them. No matter the season, as we age, we constantly attempt to chase down our youth. Youth brings the mentality of invincibility and eternity and I think it is those traits that long summer nights remind us of. We feel as if we can afford to stay out until 11:00 pm on a work night because, heck, we are still sixteen! Oh how quickly the morning comes and slaps us silly with the truth of age and the necessity of rest.
Once your ears stop ringing from the smack of Father Time and your feet stop aching from standing on concrete for hours, your brain unfogs and you comprehend that you are not sixteen but thirty and should probably remember that next time. (Why is it that my brain loses those sticky note reminders saying “You now have a three drink limit,” “We cannot sleep on couches anymore,” “Bedtime is no longer 1:00 am?” Apparently, the wind of my pride blows through and knocks them all down and my back won’t let me bend over to pick them up because I forgot and slept on my friend’s couch last night.) We despise facing our own mortality and looking age in the face. F. Scott Fitzgerald encapsulated this feeling through his characters in The Great Gatsby. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (I am going to need a moment to soak in this sentiment. I may, or may not, be obsessed with words – especially these.)
Fitzgerald nailed it. This was his mic drop moment. The human race can be emotionally encapsulated in this quote. We strive, we stretch, we strain towards youth and the harder we run the farther we still are. The great question isn’t how to elude this but how to make this bearable. What can we have that Jay Gatsby never possessed? Community. Not the kind you observe surrounding Gatsby. Intentional community – the kind that holds you up when you can’t stand on your own. The type of community that loves you through your “fat jeans” season of life as much as they did in your thin years. The kind of people who will tell you the truth with love, who will laugh with you until your sides hurt. You may read this and have faces of dear ones popping into mind, or you could wonder where a community such as this exists. I am beyond blessed to deeply know and understand what this community looks like. It isn’t a nameless group, but precious faces and voices I could recognize anywhere.
In my life, Jackson has been the central source of provision in my realm of community. There is a vein of community running through our city that isn’t only exposed to me. Wednesday was an excellent example of community pride and intentionality as Jackson gathered for #731Day and Porchfest. Taking an evening to bring everyone out of their homes and onto the lawns of their neighbors is just what Jacksonians need and love. (The food trucks always help. Who says “no” to delicious food served piping hot from a metal box? Not I!) Beyond #731Day, my summer has been filled with my community embracing new members through the #ExperienceJacksonTN program. I have observed our participants relaxing into the city they have called home for the past few weeks. Their body language from our first event where they hugged the wall for dear life has transformed into relaxed and engaging – willing to talk to anyone at the events. (Let me just wipe my eyes. They grow up so fast.)
Our summer with the participants has come to a close as all things must. We celebrated the end with a delightful sendoff at Central Distributors after a tour of McKellar Sipes Regional Airport. The airport tour was full of new and interesting facts about Jackson. Did you know The National Guard has ten Black Hawk helicopters at their armory at McKellar Sipes? (For those of you nodding in superiority, imagine my eye roll.) Or, were you aware that TBI is moving their crime lab from Memphis to land purchased from the airport here in Jackson? (So, does this mean we can expect a CSI:Jackson now?) I love learning my city is cooler than even I knew.
After a group photo in the hanger, we moved down the street to Central Distributors. The family-owned business has been a member of the Anheuser Busch company since the 1930s. Participants were given a tour of the facilities, including the keg room which is kept at 32 degrees. We didn’t dally in there for sure! The tour ended with free drinks, popcorn, dinner from Coyote Blues, and a night in the beer garden. It was touching to see how our participants mingled with each other as if it was old hat. Multiple games of corn hole were started and played with great sportsmanship. (There was only one brawl. I kid, I kid. Although, imagining a corn hole brawl is pretty hilarious. Bean bags flying left and right.)
It was obvious our participants had been exposed to something special. I relish knowing we provided a taste of community that will last on their pallets for a while to come. Whether they choose to return to Jackson or find new homes of their own, a memorable summer was made. I hope Jackson will always hold a special place in their hearts just as it does in mine. Nights like this one cause me to pause and savor what I see. Faces laughing, new friends making connections, delicious food being savored, cotton candy sunsets, and maybe even a firefly or two dancing in the grass. I have no need to beat my oars and sail my boat into the past because my present and future are full of beauty to come. I cannot wait to see what lies around the corner for myself, our participants, and the city that brought us all together.
I want to thank all of our participants, community ambassadors, influencers, and crew members who made this experience possible. Your belief in the beautiful heart of Jackson, Tennessee is what makes this city worth living in. Thank you.by Keaghlan Sheridan