Sweet Home Tuscaloosa, Alabama

All is quiet around me.

I’m sitting with my legs stretched out in front of me and my back against a stone column, perched atop the sides of the huge staircase leading up to the Gorgas Library: one of my favorite spots on campus to sit on warm nights, listen to music, and just ponder life in peace.  And that is exactly what I’m doing right now.

mystical quad

The bright, expanse of green grass, full of students in backpacks milling around, games of Frisbee, adorable dogs, and picnic blankets during the day, is now replaced by this incessant quiet and peace.  The quad, now dark, stretches out in front of the library, without people and without noise.  Light posts are scattered around, casting a warm glow on the paths that wind their way through the grass and trees and which give the whole area a kind of mystical feel to it.

green grass quad with denny chimes

University Boulevard, the main road of campus, runs parallel to the far edge, but the cars and headlights are just far enough away that they are nothing more than soothing background noise and distant beams of light darting by.

luminariasThe sudden noise of bells breaks through the silence that blankets the area, but it doesn’t break the calm.  The bell sound is a very familiar one to me, for it is nothing more than the chiming of Denny Chimes, the iconic bell tower of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama, reminding all within a two mile radius that another hour has in fact passed.  This bell tower stands tall above the trees, looming over the Quad like an immobile king.

And just beyong Denny Chimes and farther down the road, one can glimpse the massive Bryant Denny football stadium through the trees, rising much, much higher than the bell tower and any other structure in its vicinity and in, perhaps, the entire town.   The cheering, the noise, the rumble of the speakers, and the general excitement of football season which I experienced in that very place is nothing but a ghost of memory now.  Instead, the stadium sits, ominously quiet and lying dormant until its bleachers fill up with people and noise once again in the fall.

bryant denny ghostAnd as I lie here alone, Iphone playing some calming Imagine Dragons and Lumineers songs, gazing up at the stars on this clear and strangely but wonderfully warm February night, and staring out at this picturesque setting and places of memory all around me, I am overcome with a strange feelingA strange feeling, but an amazing one, and I am completely at peace.

Photo credit goes to my good friend, Ibrahim Albannay

Photo credit goes to my good friend, Ibrahim Albannay

I question this feeling.  It’s not just the peaceful environment around me that’s causing it – I always feel more calm in this spot, on this amazing campus, and it’s not anything new.  Maybe it’s simply because I could actually come here?  In the middle of the night, I felt like coming and relaxing at the Quad, and not only was it perfectly fine and possible for me, but it was also plenty warm enough for me to do it.  That is something which would never have been possible back in my hometown in New Hampshire.

I don’t think I ever even found any amazing places like this in my hometown either, seeing as I was stuck at the house most of the time, while here in Tuscaloosa I have so many, with this spot overlooking the quad being my favorite.

Once again, there is this great freedom which I am reveling in and enjoying to the utmost.  But my freedom this semester is no different than the last.  I’ve been experiencing it and loving it all year, not just this specific semester.  So no, this strange feeling I’m experiencing is not just because of my freedom, the environment, all the little things that make life in T-town so much more awesome than it ever could have been in high school.  It’s all of that. . .plus something else.  Something big.

stargazing at Gorgas

I think back on the past few days, the past few hours, this entire second semester of my college life and all that has happened in it. 

During my 15 minute walk to this spot from my dorm, I had gotten stopped multiple times by all sorts of friends passing by:  A wave here and there, a five minute chat with my Korean friends about how I would help them spend their last two weeks in America, creating lunch plans for the next day, an invitation from my Saudi friends for another night of delicious Arabic cuisine and hookah, and then some of my friends driving by in a car and shouting about how I need to join their group in a movie hangout later.  And so the 15 minutes became half an hour.

None of the encounters were expected, but all were welcomed.  And the thing is, this walk full of encounters with friends didn’t just happen this one night.  It happens almost every time I walk out my door, it seems.  I leave my room and get invited to another, or end up on all sorts of random, unexpected adventures with friends.  Completely spontaneous and completely wonderful.

For example:

I left my room to take out the trash; I ended up taking a bus to Birmingham to see a hockey game.

I wandered into BB Comer to find someone; I ended up experiencing the funniest Valentine’s Day party and multicultural dating game ever.

I went to go grab dinner alone before starting some homework; I ended up playing board games and walking around campus all night with people I ran into at the dining hall.

I went to hang out with my Colombian friend and watch a movie; I ended up stumbling into a fantastic party full of international students and dancing.

And so many more…

what up denny chimesAll the randomness isn’t so random though, and it’s all making me realize that I am truly connected to the people of this town and of this beautiful campus.

And then, there’s my group. 

All throughout high school, I was kind of a floater.  I never really belonged in any group, but just had my few best friends and then friends all over in various “groups”.  As much as I loved so many of them, I had no problem peacing out come graduation time.  I never felt as though my high school, or that town, or that house was where I needed nor wanted to be.  I was more than ready to move on with my life and leave it behind, while keeping in touch with the people I most cared about.

Students would move onto college exclaiming how they were so homesick, or how they hadn’t wanted to go too far away for fear of this so-called homesickness.  And I never understood it.

Now, I’m in college, and although I’m still the floater I was back then, there’s something different.  This time, I actually have a group of friends with whom I feel as though I truly belong, not just random friends all over.  And every single person in this group fits together like the pieces of a puzzle, with me as one of them, all unique and great in their own ways.  Not a clique or anything of the sort, just a group.  A group of wonderful people who have ensured that not a single weekend this entire semester has been a dull one, and a group which I know for a fact will stick together for the rest of freshman year and into the next.  And the best part of all – the group continues to grow with every passing weekend.

River sunset

I don’t just feel as though I belong in this group.  I belong in this town, in this place, in this time, and in this moment.  I am connected to Tuscaloosa and this university not just physically, but with every piece of my heart and soul.

And then I realize, and understand, what exactly the feeling I’m experiencing was, after sitting here and thinking back on things while my phone softly plays the song Home into my ear.  It all makes sense now.

I’m at peace. . .and I am HOME. (Ironic that the song was playing, huh?)

For the first time in my life, I think I finally understand what it means to have a true home. 

And also for the first time in my life, I think it is going to be incredibly difficult for meto say goodbye to my home for good once the time comes in the future.

All my plans for future travels and adventures are exciting me beyond belief, but knowing that where I am now is exactly where I need to be, and that I am home, gives me this inner peace which I am experiencing now.

Have you ever found a place where you felt as though you truly belonged?

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