I am sitting at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, looking out at the Great Smokies. It is just a few days before Christmas, yet the weather is brightly sunny, holding temperature in the mid sixties. Last time I was here, there were colorful leaves everywhere and the temperature was lower than today’s. It was autumn, and I was breathing in the air deeply, trying to hold on to what was left of the beauty and warmth of leaf season. The beauty has not disappeared; it has simply shifted. The beauty has not gone into hibernation in response to barren trees. I see the tree limbs curling in all directions, revealing more of the mountains than I could see earlier in the year. It is quieter because there is less traffic due to lessened tourism. My hound dogs, sitting in the back seat, are relaxing lazily, rather than panting anxiously in response to zooming motorcycles and camera clicking humans. The overlook is different from any place I can go in a car during the holiday season, and it reminds me of a contrasting moment I experienced a week ago downtown.
Last week, I was walking through a crosswalk as directed by the crosswalk indicator, while the opposing traffic sat stopped at a red light. As I was walking, I felt something pushing against my left side and realized that a car was rolling forward, touching me, and ultimately, heading into the oncoming traffic. As I realized what was happening and looked at the driver, I saw a woman on her cell phone looking down. She was not even looking out the windshield, and she had a small child in a carseat in the front seat beside her. I placed my hands on the hood of her car to get her attention. When she saw me, she hit her brakes and stopped the car. Dismayed, I said, “Please get off your phone!” She barked at me, “Oh…no! You are fine,” and then yelled, “Just shut up!”. I was shaken up by the experience and proceeded to share the story with friends later that day. I could not believe this lady would put herself and her child in so much danger by choosing to talk on a cell phone in busy traffic. I could not believe that I had been yelled at even though she had almost knocked me over with her car. And I could not believe that she was setting that behavior example for her child.
I worry about her. I worry about her child. I worry about all of us. We, in general, are greatly separated from each other yet overly connected by technology at the same time. We are angry. We are trying to do too much at once. If I could see that lady again, I would beg her to come up here, on the parkway, and sit with me so she could see the peace. So she could see tree bark and the seemingly still clouds framing the mountains. The cordless conversation of the wind. An inclusive bigger picture that need not be shut up. Perhaps a new way of navigating the holiday season, giving fresh meaning to days that are both merry and bright.