I am at Mary Mac’s Tea Room in the heart of Atlanta. I am sitting at a table by myself—the chair across me is empty. A murmur of southern charm fills the air, line by line.
“Here you are, sweetie.”
“Can I get you some sugar?”
I see that southern hospitality—that southern etiquette my eyes have seen from the movies. Ladies with legs crossed, hands folded over the knees, half-full glasses of sweet tea spritzed with lemon. I hear the drawl, the whispered orders of their favorite, familiar dishes—peach cobbler, fried chicken, shrimp & grits. I watch the orders get dished out.
Goodness, I think to myself. I’ll take a side of that, too.
I was going to put headphones on to drown out the sound, but I just couldn’t do it—I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to miss the sweet ladies with the silver hair and southern charm taking orders around me. I wanted to soak it in and let it seep in deep. I wanted to plant myself in a moment where I was surrounded by everything that is not me, everything that does not define me. Everything that sounds and smells and looks and talks differently from me.
That’s what I want—I don’t want to easily retreat back into who I am and what I know. I want to drink the sweet tea. And I want to eat the fried green tomatoes.
And this isn’t just a lesson for right now, for this very moment. This is a lesson for life: I want to find the beautiful that others have been born into and raised up in. I want to appreciate stories with different beginnings and settings and endings than my own.
There is more to the world than the bridges you are used to passing under. More to the world then the streets that you have memorized. More to the world than your favorite spot in your favorite restaurant with your favorite menu that you know by heart—that same menu that you never stray away from. There is more to the world, if you’d just seek to see beyond the circle of hearts that you know. You have more room in your heart than you know—corridors and corridors of room for new people, and new places.
The pizza-loving New Yorker in me had to order sweet tea and the fried green tomatoes and the Georgia peach cobbler. It has taken me four years since moving to Charlotte to strangle the thought that, maybe a sesame bagel smeared with cream cheese isn’t the only good thing my tastebuds might encounter in this life.
It’s taken me four years to kick down the thought that, anything different from New York is less than New York.
I want to believe that I can find myself by losing myself. This starry-eyed, native New Yorker, sticking out like a sore thumb in a foreign crowd. Raised on city dogs and bagels, confident and daring enough to drive across bridges jam-packed with urban drivers. Take me out of the city. Take me away from the signs I recognize, the place I call home, and see if I can still breathe. See if my resilient soul still sings like a songbird out in the open sky.
The world is buzzing with wonder, with new life. And if we dare to step outside of what our hearts have memorized so well…we will find it. We will find that it’s always been there.
We will find that it’s not going anywhere. We just need to show up.
Sit with it.
Order the dish
And embrace it.