Wherever we fall on the political and cultural spectrum, most of us can agree than 2016 was an emotionally exhausting year.
It’s time to find rest. There are many places to seek quiet from our own inner tumult and the world’s noise. But perhaps one of the surest paths to calm was pointed out to me recently by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools third-grader.
As I met with her for a reading tutoring session, the girl steered me to the school’s outdoor courtyard. The day was warm enough, and we sat down under sky.
She didn’t have a yard at her home, she explained, but that was OK. “I like to read in a park, under a tree,” she told me. “It’s just so peaceful there.”
Thousands of us in the Carolinas know what that elementary school student knows, and we’ve proved it over the last couple of years. We gathered in greater numbers than ever on mountain trails, in the forests, on beaches. We’ve walked our dogs in greenways, played with our kids in fields, explored the swamps and paddled the rivers. More than 17 million of us visited North Carolina state parks in 2015, a 23 percent jump from just two years earlier. The story of robust visitation was the same last year, during the state park system’s centennial, mirroring the trend in national parks. Mecklenburg County’s own 21,000 acres of open space saw more than 900,000 visits some months last year.
We come from different places, literally and metaphorically, but in truth we all come from one place. The open spaces, both wild and more manicured, are everyone’s heritage – the birthright we all share.
In my faith, there’s an idea known as “common grace,” a belief that there is a goodness of God that washes over all humanity, without distinction. The landscapes we cherish in our town, our region and our nation – what are they, if not a common grace available to us all?
Researchers have data to prove our bodies and minds work better when we open the door and walk outside. That breathing slows, tempers cool and spirits lift when we smell sea air, stand on a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook, or simply, like the CMS student, sit beneath the sheltering arms of an oak.
For those of us looking for points of agreement this year, reminders that we share more than we realize, the places we love are a good spot to start. There’s rest there. And it belongs to us all.
Veverka, a freelance writer, is a former Observer staff writer.