I've lived in Birmingham for nearly seven months now.
It's one of those measures of time that is teeny tiny in the scheme of things and yet large in the day to day sense. For the past seven months I have lived in a different state than the one I lived in the first 22 years of my life. I had my first birthday where my permanent address doesn't match my parents. It's bittersweet in the full sense of the word.
Growing up, I don't think you ever fully understand what it means to be on your own. When you imagine the future, it's always vague but glamorous. There are so many little things I didn't know I would miss about Meridian. I never imagined how bad rush hour traffic could be. I don't think I could handle moving anywhere bigger than Birmingham because traffic is not a fun part of my day. I miss going to the same pharmacy and having the people know who I am and get my medicine before I say my name. I love Birmingham for so many reasons but it turns out it takes longer than 7 months to put down roots in a town.
A few weeks ago I was back in Meridian for the weekend and went to a Christmas marketplace with my grandmother. I saw and talked to so many people I knew. My grandmother saw and talked to even more people she knew. The song "Everybody dies famous in a small town" by Miranda Lambert popped into my head.
I didn't know how known I was in Meridian until I moved to a town where I am not known. A place where I don't exchange pleasantries with the same three cashiers that have been at the same grocery store for years. I think that's the hardest part about being in a new place. I have to work to be known and put down roots. Every time I run into someone I know at a random place it feels like a victory here.
My natural inclination is to be a butterfly and flit from flower to flower admiring all the beauty rather than to be a seed and put roots in one place. In some ways, I could get away with it in Meridian. Meridian was small enough for me to be noncommittal to certain places and still be wholly known. In Meridian, my family is known and established. When your family has been a part of the community since before indoor plumbing and personal telephone lines were standard, you tend to know people.
And that's what's been the hardest of being in a new place: not being known.
I'm learning to how to define "home" differently. I'm learning home can be two places. It can be the place with new friends, church and new experiences, and it can be the place with family, old friends and places with a treasure trove of fond memories.
I don't remember when I decided I didn't want to stay in the small town I grew up. By the time I was 18 and planning my future with my first boyfriend, it wasn't a question of "if," it was "where" and when."
But five years later, I have a new appreciation for my first home. Now I don't know if new and bigger is better than cozy and familiar. I see the charm in running into local acquaintances at the local Piggly Wiggly as much as I see the draw of living within 2 miles of four grocery stores. I see the draw of living in a town where you are known and loved by many, and I see the charm of living in a city where the possibilities are limited only by who I chose to be.
In the new city, I am never reduced to being referred to only as the granddaughter of a beloved, local pastor. And yet, here I do not get the blessing and privilege of meeting people who light up upon hearing my last name, and immediately tell me how my grandfather prayed for their sick, loved one. I could go further and use this dichotomy to describe my father, an outdoors writer who's a bit of a local celebrity; my mother, an elementary teacher, former piano teacher and oboe player for local orchestras when needed; my other grandfather, a longstanding staple in the local horse community; and even my sisters who use their natural exuberance and joyful natures to leave lasting positive impressions on those they meet. To be funny and over the top, it is both a blessing and a curse to be so well known and connected. I am pulled by the comfort of familiarity and the excitement of anonymity. I am torn between unknown potential and being known.
The rub is neither choice is right and neither choice is wrong. Both the familiar and the unknown have their advantages and disadvantages ; one only has to decide which wins. When asked where I see myself in five years, I answer with complete certainty, "I don't know."
I'm learning to see that as freeing instead of frightening. I'm learning to see the beauty in trusting in God with the unknown.