Happy Anniversary

“For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.” Aristotle

I’m such a sucker for anniversaries.   I get in to the ceremony, the observance, the tradition.  And, if you really want to get me going, throw in a good dose of nostalgia – I guarantee the giddiness and revelry won’t be reserved.  Celebration and reflection get shaken and stirred and a toast to the future (preferably bubbly in nature) seals the moment.  It just feels good to commemorate a time, a place or a passing that has become a part of life’s story.

One year ago we moved to north Alabama.  We arrived with little more than a moving truck full of keepsakes and furniture and the typical collection of irrelevant items that a family of three deem necessary for their identity in a new place.  I’ll admit, I was skeptical about our chances of survival in Jones Valley.  Who did we even know here?  Where would we live?  Where would our favorite dinner spot be?  Okay, I may or may not have gone so far as to issue a warning that “if I don’t like it, we’re leaving”.  This new start (this starting over) scared me.

I remember the night we pulled in to town with all of our belongings crammed in to a moving truck and our two vehicles.  We exited the interstate and made our way through the hills and curves that I would come to learn are so unique to Birmingham.  There was a full moon in the sky and the twinkling of newly-strung holiday lights all around gave me an unexpected sense of comfort.  For the first time since we started discussing this move, I felt that there may be hope for a future here.  Or, maybe I had no other choice at that point but to have faith…

After a few days of rest and unpacking I was left with nothing to do but explore.  A weak economy offered little optimism in my own personal job search (my husband’s job being a leading cause for our move), so I committed to staying at home with our son – a decision and opportunity I could not be more grateful for.  With Sweet Pea buckled snugly in the seat behind me, we set out each day to explore the city and her many sights, and each day I found myself even more curious than before.  This grittiness, this charm, this history – Birmingham, in so many different ways, was just begging me to get to know her.

And so I did.  The weather, much like it is now, was unbearably chilly.  (It also rained for what seemed like months.)  But that wasn’t enough to stop me from driving each day along new roads, stopping to snap photos and scribble down interesting places to return to.  I wanted to know the history behind each building, each park, each namesake.  On the days I could leave Sweet Pea behind I would go and meet and talk with anybody who would allow me the time.  I started to gather the story of Birmingham and, without even knowing, I was beginning to create a story of my own.  (Just read the past year of The Manifesto.)  At that point, nothing could shake my newfound affection for our new home.  I had the biggest crush on Birmingham.

Then, after the spring flowers had come and gone, I remember sitting in the warm summer sun at a neighbor’s house.  A small group of enthusiastic residents had gathered to discuss Birmingham and her inventory of successes and failures and at one point someone optimistically predicted, “In 20 years we’ll look back and think, ‘Can you even believe it?!’”  Well of course we will, I thought!  Won’t we? For six months I’d been swept away with the newness of Birmingham.  The city seemed so romantic, it was full of hope and, even though I’d earlier resisted this “new beginning”, the promise of what Birmingham could offer me and my family was enough to keep me defending every bit of her.

(Spoiler Alert)  Soon after that gathering I began to lose my newcomer spirit.  The excitement of being in a new place was wearing off and truths about things I’d so naively overlooked (education, division of class and race, city government) were quickly revealing themselves.  I began to grow wise to what others warned me about.  I began to see some of the friction and folly that governs the City.  I started to lose the will to wander and, instead, began to settle in to what so many have told me is the real Birmingham.  I began to believe in their Birmingham – the City that’s better left alone.  Months went by as I became less of a newcomer and more of, dare I say, just another skeptic.  Was I really happy here or was I just forcing it for the sake of survival?

And then something happened.  The anniversary of our move to Birmingham was upon us and it was time to, well, celebrate!  Looking back through a year of searching, of curiosity, of hard work (2010 will always be remembered as the year I learned what it really means to renovate a house), I began to appreciate more of what I thought was an unfortunate byproduct of all these life changes.  I began to realize how much my son has been enjoying this City and our families that live so close by.  I came to understand that relaxing on our big front porch was exactly what my husband needed.  I considered the many people I’ve met and how they’ve enhanced my own experience here.  I thought of the things I’ve accomplished on my own and I’m surprised at how quickly Birmingham opened herself and embraced a newcomer so unsure and wavering.

The Magic City has a strong soul. With her awkward start via railroads and steel mills and the rapid turnover in her Southern stature, so many lost faith in her.  So many doubted that she could ever rise again.  Many just settled on forgetting.  And I think I got close to at least ignoring…  Even as this significant anniversary passed, I was tempted to overlook much of what I’d seen and experienced by creating my own safe, quiet little world.  Reality is, though, I don’t work that way.  I can’t not be in the middle of things, so closing my eyes to what I was so enamored with before felt like such a betrayal of self and spirit.  How dare I behave this way in Birmingham?  Of all places, here is where I should feel that fire in my belly, churning day and night, just as she once did when her furnaces were blazing and bright.  I should be gritting my teeth and fighting for the very pride one can only realize after the adversary and adversity has been defeated.  Above all else, I should be beaming in Birmingham.

So a year has passed and the anniversary came and went with little ceremony.  I’d imagined some sort of small salute, at the very least, though I allowed the day to come and go with little more than a verbal observance.  And that’s okay…

The celebration, I’m realizing, is just beginning.  The opportunity to reflect on what this year has meant is proving to be full of merriment.  Each new day, coupled with the history I’m creating, is an honor.  It is a blessing.

It’s funny how history reveals truth.  My own “past” here in The Magic City is short, but it has revealed a new stage in my life.  I look back on 365 days of wandering, of wondering, of examining and of embracing.  This place I was so eager to loathe somehow became a place I can’t help but adore.

I’m certainly glad I gave Birmingham a chance.  She certainly took a chance on me…

Happy Anniversary.

3 Responses to “Happy Anniversary”

  1. Issac Maez says:

    great article… thanks for sharing

  2. fischerl says:

    Thank you for this eloquent post about Birmingham. I will be celebrating my one-week anniversary on Thursday. Your actions and words have inspired me to make the most of this Magic City.

  3. “The Magic City has a strong soul.” Beautiful! I will quote you often. And Happy Anniversary!

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