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my adopted heritage and my actual home

June 19, 2013

Things happen for a reason.

Not my intent there to introduce a mind-blowing revelation that’s never been uttered before, but nonetheless, it’s true. Whether we shoehorn our realities into the holes of our lifeplan, whether we look hard enough and find the connections, whether our personal gravity draws our decisions irrevocably to the core of who we are… in other words, synchronicity and inevitability seem interchangeable to me.

More concretely, I moved into a house a month and a half ago. I’ve overexposed this fact during my social networking and in my offline life, to boot. I’ve been so giddy over the house itself that I neglected to examine the neighborhood I found myself in for several weeks.

Well, there was the cursory examination: it’s a “rough” neighborhood. I surmised early on that I would need to keep my guard up because of the presumed poverty and crime that a less affluent intown community faces.

I haven’t completely let my guard down yet, but I have become much more comfortable with the area. I’ve witnessed a couple of interesting situations, including a low-octane physical altercation last weekend among three guys, at least one of whom was inebriated. Shortly after moving in, my guy had a run-in with a neighbor who inexplicably felt entitled to use our outside spigot and was quite offended that we weren’t letting him come unrestricted and uninvited into our yard to get his fill of expensive City of Atlanta water with which to wash cars.

But those have been exceptions. Neighbors here are like neighbors everywhere else I’ve lived. I haven’t a clue whether the crime rate is really any higher here than in Buckhead. As a matter of fact, Peachtree Road was closed for a time this afternoon because there was a shooting near the posh shopping district up the street from the high-rise office building where I work, in the “good” neighborhood. That’s anecdotal evidence, for sure, but I haven’t heard any gunshots near my new home for six weeks. Just sayin’.

As my excitement has settled into just plain old contentment with the new place, I’ve had a chance to look around a little more critically. From my perch on the second-floor balcony, I’ve studied the neighborhood, known officially as Washington Park, and breathed in its history.

Just north of the historic Atlanta University Center and itself a large piece in the history of segregated Atlanta, my new home is not exactly world-famous Auburn Avenue, but it is significant.  And it speaks to my adopted heritage.

It’s been a running joke for the past 30 years among my friends, whoever they might be at the time, that I’m only white on the outside. Without getting really personal yet (patience, I’ll get there in another post, I’m sure), I developed an affinity for black culture and black folks from a very early age, even before I had any significant exposure to them (er, us?). It’s always just been one of those “things” in my life, a virtually unexplained phenomenon that’s difficult to discuss because people judge very quickly.

I’m not eager to bring attention to myself, so I mute all my aberrant tendencies, regardless of their ilk, but never shush them altogether. I’m equally unwilling to lie about who I am, so I’ve always worn my adopted heritage on the inside of my sleeve, ready to roll up and expose at any time.

So then, surveying my new neighborhood, I’m starting to feel a new giddiness, entirely separate from the house. I dare to think that this may be where I belong. Atlanta the metropolitan area has been my unchallenged home for the past 20 years, but I’ve never been entirely enchanted by any of the outposts where I’ve resided.

The Emory campus is vibrant with academia and fresh foliage. The Toco Hills neighborhood nearby where I lived for four years is nice in a bland, suburby kind of way. The Stone Mountain side of Decatur (three years logged) and Riverdale (11 long years) are mere shadows of suburban living, compromised by the relocation of lower income folks. Even my recent six-month stint in Midtown, which has served as Ground Zero of my Atlanta world, fell a little flat.

All nice enough, all part of the Atlanta mosaic that I love, but not “it.” The history I breathe here in my new home, the immediate and apparent community needs that I witness on every street corner: they speak to me. It could all be a fleeting intoxication, fodder for a few lines of introspection.

But it could be more.  We’ll see.

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