Jaqueline’s Space: God’s Most Beautiful Creation – People

When I graduate from Liberty this spring, I will not be “walking” in the conventional use of the verb.

Instead of crossing the graduation stage May 7, I’ll be two months into a five-month-long, 2,190-mile trek from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail.

I am trading in my cap and gown for hiking boots and a 30lb backpack. Walking between 10-20 miles a day and sleeping in a tent at shelters will be interrupted only by going into town every few days to restock and shower. 

What a 180-degree change from hours a day in the classroom and weekends spent in the Champion newspaper office.

No doubt, challenges will abound. Hiking day after day will wear the mind and body. Bears, moose, rattlesnakes, diabetic complications, injuries, thunderstorms, snow and loneliness – they all pose unique problems. 

But a lot of reasons draw me to this hike. 

The physical and mental challenges presented by endless up-and-down hills, days without showering and nights spent under rainy skies in already soaked-through clothes. The idea of standing triumphant on Mt. Katahdin in early August. The quiet time where the only sounds are birds beginning to chirp in the spring, leaves rustling in the summer wind and God’s voice as I learn to know Him better in the setting of His marvelous creation. 

But there’s one reason above all else that, even in the moments when I second guess this crazy decision, pushes me forward.

People.

It is strange to say my reasoning is people when leaving for the trail means leaving people I love. Realizing my time at Liberty is coming to an end has brought hesitation. It is difficult to leave a semester early from the place where I’ve made friends who have come to feel like family, who I love, who have formed me into the person I am, who showed me who Christ was and sparked my relationship with Him. 

It may seem even more strange for me to say that people draw me to solitude in the woods for five months. But my hike won’t be done in isolation. More than 3000 people attempt a thru-hike and three million hike at least a part of the trail every year. When I talk to those who have hiked the Appalachian Trail before, I’m told I will make lifelong friends – “tramily” is how thru-hikers often refer to the trail families they create along the journey.

These people will come from all backgrounds, ages, occupations and religions with a vast array of reasons, desires and dreams. We will all be seeking different things – direction in life, time away, challenge, God’s voice, beauty. But all of us, in this great diversity, will be united to one goal: Mt. Katahdin.

“People” is the same answer I’d give for why I love space. Michael Collins, Christa McAuliffe – these are the people I highlighted as sparking my love for space exploration. Space is barren in terms of human life, and yet it’s humanity’s role in understanding it that captivates me. Black holes, Pluto, the dome of stars that stretches above us every night – they are all beautiful. But God’s most beautiful creation is people.

Our interactions with nature are interactions with people, whether the humanity within ourselves or the humanity of others. That is what I’m most looking forward to on the trail.

This is what I want to leave with: an image of space – of nature – not of unattainable science but of what it reveals about us. Us, as humans, shine brighter than a thousand stars.

What a way to graduate college – heading out to a new place, to walk new trails and to meet new people to learn from and love.

Hale is the editor-in-chief. Follow her on Twitter.

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