I've been a college graduate for two years now, and post-grad life still doesn't feel quite right. I miss being on a college campus. I miss learning and devouring textbooks. I miss the mountains of Harrisonburg. I miss living in a small town, memorizing every nook and cranny of the city's limits. I miss being part of a close-knit community. There are so many things I miss about JMU. It's easy to immerse yourself in nostalgia. It's also easy to drown in it, flailing around for the life you used to know and rejecting the one you're currently living. It's a constant battle - appreciating those precious memories while charging forward into the future with optimism and grace.
It's been awhile since I've felt sentimental about my college years. I visited JMU's campus today to take graduation photos of my friend Cassie, which sparked the sudden wave of nostalgia. She wore a beautiful floral dress and aztec wedges, her purple gown drifting in the wind behind her like a majestic cape. Believe it or not, it feels like I was doing the exact same thing just yesterday - posing in front of Wilson Hall, throwing my cap into the air and laughing at the pure beauty of life and the endless possibilities that lay before me. The disconcerting fact is that it wasn't yesterday. It wasn't even last year. It's been two years since I walked across the stage with my diploma in hand. Does the longing ever stop? Does post-grad life ever begin to feel normal? Does the ache of nostalgia ever fade?
These are questions I still can't answer. Something I've learned over the past two years, however, is the exact reason why I loved JMU so deeply. Why can't I let go of my time there? Why are the memories so vivid after all this time?
It's simple, really. Harrisonburg was my home. I spent three years walking through campus, sitting diligently in classrooms (or skipping class on sunny days and laying on the quad), spending time with my roommates and loving my university with all my heart. The roads of Harrisonburg were ingrained in my mind, and the spirit of the school was ingrained in my soul.
While Harrisonburg was morphing into my home, Virginia Beach was fading into the past. It no longer gave me a warm, cozy feeling when I visited on the weekends. My parents moved to a smaller house, and the walls of my designated guest bedroom were bare. Returning to Harrisonburg was a comforting relief. It was my city. Not because I grew up there and not because it had to be, but because I picked it from a handful of college acceptances, and I formed a life there. I had friends that felt like family, professors that treated me like a daughter, and a community that constantly held their arms open when I slipped off track.
Finding a home after college can be a difficult process. I moved back to Virginia Beach for a year and a half before moving to Richmond, and it was quite a shock to the system. It never felt like I was in the right place. My hometown felt stagnant. Sure, I had a physical home, but I didn't have the support system or the community to feel like I really belonged there.
Moving to Richmond was a fresh start. The streets and sights were brand new, unblemished and pure. Kyle and I spent a good two months devouring the city. In fact, we made our rounds so quickly that we ended up feeling bored with the area sooner than we had anticipated. We still have fun exploring, scoping out hole-in-the-wall restaurants and traveling to nearby cities on the weekends, but our gut feeling of disinterest has left us wanting.
In five months, I will be moving across the country to Seattle. I know, I know. If I want a city to feel like home again, why do I keep moving around? I can't really explain why I keep relocating or why I grow antsy after being in the same area for more than a few months. In addition to my innate desire to see the world, I think I'm searching for the perfect city. I know such a place doesn't exist, but what I really mean is the perfect city for me. My next home. The next town to fill my heart with joy and contentment as Harrisonburg once did. It might not be my cross-country move. It might not even be the city after that, or the city after that. But I know that every city I spend time in is leading me closer and closer to the place I need to be. For me, that's enough. I'll find that feeling of "home" again someday, and it will be better than anything I've ever experienced before.