I’m sitting on my porch, rocking gently back and forth while I write in the creaky swing whose screws I really hope don’t pull out of the ceiling, a bead of sweat rolling down the back of my neck while the gentle breeze flutters my hair into my eyes. My planters are spilling over with admittedly dry petunias, somehow still thriving and vibrant even in the face of not much rain and an absentminded plant mama who sometimes forgets to bring out the watering can.
I’m walking the dogs, the early morning dew budded on grass-blades, wet against toes that poke out of my sandals, cooling my feet against the already-hot air. Birds are chirping, neighbors wave, and the sun beats down on my bare shoulders as I circle the path in the park just seven blocks from our house. I pass the bluest hydrangea bushes I’ve ever seen.
I’m walking home from church. Life’s good when your pastor and his family are your neighbors, and life’s better when you have church at their house. The honeysuckle vines are in full bloom, reminding me of my grandma and home and childhood, and their sweet scent combined with the heady gardenias I pass hangs heavy in the air. I stop and speak with four different neighbors I don’t know, and I pause and listen for a moment to the plucking of guitar strings coming from another neighbor’s porch, the kind of music that can only happen on the laziest of Sundays.
It’s summertime in Alabama.
There’s something about summer in the South that reminds me where I’m rooted, reminds me why I stay in this tumultuous place. March comes and with it, the sun and the warmth, and I can feel my heart start to get fuller. By June, this feeling – intensity, love, joy – threatens to burst out of me in a fit of sweaty exuberance. Oh, how I love this place in the summer.
I don’t always love the South, admittedly. Not every day. Not even every warm, sunny day. I’ve lived in here my whole life, my time spent in an uneven split between Chattanooga and Birmingham, but there are days I wish with all my heart that all those blue states up north weren’t quite so cold, because sometimes I feel like giving up and packing up and moving up.
Alabama can be problematic. We’ve got a bad reputation with the rest of the country, mostly because we deserve it. Racism, both systemic and personal, runs rampant here. We have a ridiculously high incarceration rate. We have severe, debilitating poverty, and we’re the sixth poorest state in the US. Our education system, particularly in some counties, leaves a LOT to be desired. Our state and local leaders frequently become a laughingstock on national news, because seriously?? We have lots of very loud people who discriminate against those who are different – different colors, different religions, different political beliefs, different sexual orientations, different gender identities, different ideologies – and unfortunately they often drown out those of us who are shouting love.
But Alabama is also beautiful. (So is Tennessee, where I grew up.) Alabama has honeysuckle and gardenias and hydrangeas and azaleas. Alabama has green, green grass and lots of pretty trees and mountains and rivers and beaches and farms. Alabama has long summers and short winters and not very much snow (which is very important to my SAD-addled self.) Alabama has a LOT of VERY GOOD barbecue. Alabama houses my precious neighborhood that I love so dearly. Alabama has lots of people living in it who are passionate about racial equality and ending LGBTQ discrimination and creating community and ending poverty and mass incarceration. Alabama has lots of people passionate about local food movements and clean air and water and public health. Alabama has lots of people passionate about loving each other.
So here I stay. In the winter, I pray for the summer to come quickly, and until it does, I sit and I try to be intentionally thankful amidst a sea of conservatives who sometimes make it hard for us liberal folk, who make it feel like we’re swimming upstream, but who still have things to teach us, and who can still love us in spite of our differences. Here I stay, thankful, among some of the best neighbors I could ever ask for. In the middle of one of the most gorgeous places on this earth. In a church community that’s more amazing than I could’ve ever dreamed. In a house that Mark and I have made a home.
We may move, someday. If we do, there are some things might be rejoicing over – maybe we’ll finally live in a blue state! But if we do, we’ll also leave part of our hearts here, among the honeysuckle vines and the cracked sidewalks and our porch swing. And I will be grateful, then, that this paradoxical place will always feel like home.