At first glance, The Steps at Percy Warner seem like nothing special. They are made of stone so old that an alarming amount of grass grows in between the cracks in them.
The steep slope of The Steps makes even walking up them a strenuous activity. At night, the path leading into the dark, empty park looks downright ominous, like the exact place an ignorant teenager would venture into at the beginning of a horror movie. And yet, this small section of a park in Nashville, Tennessee is my absolute favorite place in the world.
My schedule is busy and overwhelming, but I try to make time to visit The Steps as often as possible. As I drive away from the rush of populated areas and onto the backroads, weathered with age and teeming with knowledge, I gradually separate myself from the chaos of everyday life. All that matters is what happens at that moment in time and in that haven.
Whatever problems I drive to The Steps with are abandoned in my car. From that point on it is just me and my thoughts. Everything is put into perspective there. My trivial problems are mere specks in comparison to the powerful idea that I have come so far in my life and lay on the grass at that moment healthy and happy.
All of the hunger, thirst, poverty, and evil in the world seems to fade away. It's as if there were an invisible dome surrounding The Steps, blocking out the bad things and letting in the good. When I finally manage to tear myself away from the safe haven, I feel renewed. I feel whole.
Sometimes I venture off into the park. If I am feeling adventurous, I pry myself away from basking in the sun and force myself to exercise. I pick a trail and start walking with no end goal in sight. I never rush to reach the end of the trail or follow the trail markers like an Eleventh Commandment.
Most of the time I get miserably, hopelessly lost and end up having to look up a map to escape the labyrinth of the woods. One time, my friends had to drive around and come pick me up because I was lost for so long in the middle of January that I was slightly in danger of losing my toes to frostbite. However, I wasn't worried, because a part of me knew the park would not hurt me and would never let me become truly, irreversibly lost.
The experience varies, but the destination remains the same. It always leads back to The Steps.
Undoubtedly, the people-watching is what makes The Steps so special. On almost every Saturday in the Fall or Spring, around 5:00 p.m., you will see high school kids taking pictures for either Homecoming or Prom. Other photo shoots dominate The Steps year-round. While a photographer clicks away, engaged couples stare into each other's' eyes lovingly, parents hold their babies' hands as they attempt to walk, and families large enough to make up a recreation basketball team cuddle close together.
Weddings have taken place at the top of the Steps. I'm sure that break-ups have too. Some lunatics even use the park for what it was meant for: hiking and exercising. Every once in a while, I stare in awe at a particularly motivated individual who sprints up and down The Steps by choice. Don't even get me started on the dogs. Man's best friend roams all around the area, approaching strangers with the kindness that humans should express toward one another every day.
I swear The Steps make me a philosopher. I should be presented with an honorary degree for the amount of Big Life Questions I have contemplated while laying on my back and staring up at the tree line. Why are we all here? What is the meaning of life? What am I going to eat for dinner tonight?
Along with those important questions I struggle to answer, I also like to consider the lives of those wandering around me. We were all brought together to the same time and place for different reasons. We all have different lives, different problems, and different loved ones, but an unspoken camaraderie resides between us. Looking around at the multitude of strangers gives me a deep-seated sense of comfort in their presence. We don't always acknowledge each other, but we don't need to. We have The Steps.
It's not lit by neon signs and teeming with live music like Broadway Street. It doesn't have the smell of gourmet foods floating in the air like 12 South. There aren't trendy boutiques stuffed with overpriced clothing like Hillsboro Village. Visit those places. They're great.
Then, once you're done with the obligatory tourist stops, drive twenty minutes outside of downtown into a more suburban area. If you want to understand the real Nashville, the one without cowboy hats and honky tonks on every corner, the one that makes me eager to come home over break and proud to tell people where I'm from, spend a day at The Steps. I promise you will not regret it.