Now We Begin Again | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Now We Begin Again

Like many Americans, the lead-up to the 2008 election was not the healthiest time period for me. It was an anxiety-filled time; at one point, I even woke up in the middle of the night thinking about something awful Sarah Palin had said, my heart pounding.

Not only that, my neck is killing me with sharp pains shooting into my back and shoulders. I have put off both doctor and dental checkups in recent weeks, and I've been to yoga exactly one time in recent months. I have been going on morning walks, but even that has gone from being meditative to counting how many Obama-to-McCain yard signs there are on my Fondren route (by this morning, 31 to 2, Obama).

And, yes, I've watched way too many polls like many of you.

So now that it's over—and as I write this Monday, I don't know the winner—tough times call for better health for all of us. Either we have my choice for president to lead us through tough times and ask us to make sacrifices, or the other choice, who will freeze spending to get us through the dark times—either way, the road isn't going to be easy for any of us. We have business stress, job stress, financial stress, insurance stress, war stress, and on and on.

Meantime, we live in a country with a broken health-care system—one set up to benefit health-insurance companies and medical services, but not so much you and me. We get penalized for getting sick and having pre-existing conditions. We get billed three times for the same service (the doctor, the lab and some other lab doctor).

Add to that the sad reality that here in Mississippi, we are the most unhealthy and most overweight in the nation. I live in a neighborhood where a lot of people walk, but most of us still drive to work (at least I go with my partner, but it's still only 9/10 of a mile from my office). I often deal with people, even young ones, who get winded walking up the one flight of stairs to our office. I walk to Basil's from my office, and some car tries to run me over even though I have the right of way.

Friends, it's time for a big change.

It's a daunting task, but Mississippi needs to change our health culture. We need to go from a state where so many people assume the doctor has all the answers to one in which we prevent illnesses however we can. We must encourage each other to exercise more, eat wiser, take time to breathe and be in the moment.

Speaking of being in the moment, I've decided that this is the key to everything good in life. It's what helps us get things done efficiently, and then get on with enjoying life. As Jackie Tatum tells it from his story, being in the "now" is just about everything; we cannot be happy and productive if we are always worrying about what we haven't done. I'm very guilty of this historically; I'm working hard on living in the now more often.

And I tell you, if Nicole Marquez can do it, so can any of us. Nicole is a remarkable young woman (featured way back in the very first issue of the Jackson Free Press as the queen of the local Latino festival). Her story, as told by Ronni Mott this issue, is one of the triumphs of the human spirit. It is also one of being able to live in and enjoy every moment. It is one of love and compassion, and the triumph and mind and spirit over body. I believe Nicole will dance again.

Remarkably, some of the healthiest people I've ever known have been those who had experienced or witnessed some of the worst times. I knew a war correspondent in Washington years ago who had the best attitude ever about people and life. Everything was fun: He used to go out on his balcony, where he grew tomato plants, and "talk" to them by yelling, "Grow, you f*cks!" It was hilarious (and meant to be), and so was his spirit. Everything was fun, every moment of life. I've lost track of him, but I expect he is well. I hope so.

Of course, the secret to mind-spirit-body health that they don't tell us enough about early on really comes down to one thing: service. People who serve others and have compassion for each other and themselves are the healthiest among us. I know it's true in my own life: My happiest times are when I feel like I am in service of others. It is part of the reason that I do not understand attitudes that demonize "the other" (ahem, Palin) because they are poor, or believe differently, or live in a different part of the country. There is nothing healthy about greed, selfishness and living in constant fear.

In fact, hope is about the healthiest thing one can imagine. When we wrote the mission statement for this newspaper back in 2002—within months of 9/11—we filled it with hope. Hope that we could attract a diverse readership (done), get them to consider and talk to each other about issues (done), help make Jackson and Mississippi more progressive (think we've done that), give this area an intelligent media outlet that doesn't assume people are idiots or bigots (ongoing).

But a vital part of our mission was to help this state, and this city, become healthier. We want to see more people in the great outdoors, on bikes, in our gyms and in our yoga studios. We want to see Mississippians eating less junk food and greasy hunks of meat, and figuring out how to cook great southern food with better ingredients. We want to see people getting into meditation, yoga and other forms of Eastern mind-body practices (note to Legislature: Please let acupuncturists practice here).

We've had some progress on this front, but not nearly enough. So now that this very stressful, and hopeful, election is over, we challenge you to join us. After all, we can't change the world if we don't have the energy to walk up the stairs.

To your health, friends.

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