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“I hate this place! You call this a city? I can’t wait to move away from here.” A mere four years ago I found myself saying these very phrases almost daily as I surveyed the college town of Harrisonburg, Virginia where I was to spend the next few years of my life. I couldn’t believe that “downtown” was literally about two square blocks, that people actually found things to do here, and, most of all, that I would be living here for four years!

I’m sure you can already guess how this story ends: slowly but surely I started to love Harrisonburg and now the place is as dear to my heart as my own hometown. I returned to the ‘burg this past weekend and immediately felt the familiar love and warmth of its beautiful people. I was taken in by the serenity of the surrounding mountains and the peaceful sounds of birds beckoning me to wake up and wander outside each morning.

(It seems to be a reoccuring theme in my life that the things I hate I end up loving in the end.  I think I’ve told myself, “I told you so” more times than I can count.  I suppose I should take heed for the future; my hated cubicle may turn into something I love, although I highly doubt it!)

To say returning to Harrisonburg was a breath of fresh air is a bit of an understatement– It was more like a all-consuming wave of fresh air. The allure of Harrisonburg is almost hard to define: it’s in the quaint local restaurants and shops, the smiles of familiar faces, and the sustainable way of life that many residents embrace. I suppose you could even say it’s in the water.

Graduation weekend last May: the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

The transition from the intense, fast-paced life of New York to the slow ebb and flow of Harrisonburg was, in some ways, jolting. Yet, it didn’t take long for me to feel right at home and, before I knew it, I was already plotting and scheming for when I could return, thinking, “I love this place! What a charming city! I can’t wait to move back here!”

Note: The main reason I returned to the ‘Burg was to speak in a chapel service at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University. The text from the message is much too long to put here so I’ve included the link to the podcast if you’d like to take a listen: http://emu.edu/now/podcast/2012/03/02/seek-the-peace-of-the-city-a-volunteers-journey-in-ny-megan-grove/