Five years ago, my husband and I looked at our lives and decided to make some magic.
We had both grown disenchanted with our work (and the weather in Michigan), and so, one evening, I asked a dangerous question: “Where do we want to end up?”
He looked at me and said, “Well, where don’t we want to end up?”
We pulled out my old American Literature anthology (the only thing in the apartment that had a U.S. map in it) and a black permanent marker. After some discussion and lots of shading, the only areas left open on the map were the Pacific Northwest and the Mid-Atlantic and Southern East Coast.
No joke. This is how we moved to North Carolina.
Neither of us had ever set foot in the Old North State, but we’d heard good things from friends and colleagues, and some internet research solidified their opinions about the Triangle Region. The area boasted tons of institutions of higher learning, a thriving arts population, and a growing foodie scene. And, another plus: it was a short drive from the ocean in one direction, and the mountains in another. It looked like the obvious choice for two newlyweds who wanted a chance to reinvent their lives together.
And so we loaded up the minivan and headed south.
Our first morning in North Carolina, we were tired and disoriented, and the panic of moving without work had begun to set in. We stopped at a local diner that advertised free WiFi and spent the morning poring over the paper and the Web looking for opportunities. The waitress called us “Sweetie” and “Shug,” brought us a plate of unordered sticky cinnamon buns, and made us feel at home. The place was packed, but we never felt rushed, and all the patrons had an easy, friendly way about them. It was clear that we were the only two non-regulars in the restaurant, but by the end of the meal, we felt like we’d been coming there for years. We fell in love with North Carolina over breakfast that morning, and we never looked back.
When I think about timing in magic, I usually think about the season or the phase of the moon — but there’s more to it than that, and it can’t always be planned down to the letter. There are just too many variables, and that’s part of the messed-up beauty of life. Some spells take on a life of their own while others fall flat, and there isn’t always a clear reason. Just like life, the right combination of control and good fortune needs to be present to yield the desired results. But just like life, sometimes the best magic is unexpected.
We went back to that same diner this weekend to say goodbye. After more than fifty years in business, they’re closing. Had I woken up just a bit earlier or slept in for another hour, we wouldn’t have found ourselves standing in line in front of a lovely family who, it turned out, were related to the owner of the restaurant. We passed the time swapping stories and sharing our affection for the first place in the state which had welcomed us, and by the time we were seated, we were glowing with love. The family was seated near us, and throughout the rest of the meal, they turned around to holler at us or to introduce us to other folks a number of times. There’s nothing quite like southern hospitality, and the diner, once again, reminded us that we’d made the right choice in coming here.
Moments like that, when the stars align and meetings with random strangers become cherished memories, are truly magical and can’t be forced. Sure, we had the intention of having one last great breakfast before the diner closed its doors, but timing and luck brought us into contact with some wonderful people, and that’s what made all the difference.