The four seasons are creation’s gospels in Kansas. By them a man may learn a thing or two about his soul. They teach a man law, and consequences. And, if a man has ears to hear, they will whisper the song of second chances to him in the night. Second chances are hard things. They never come without pain. One can only come to second chances through death and loss.
If it is cold and bitter on Thanksgiving Day, a man will still need to drill, solitary on the tractor his boy waiting in the pickup, that winter wheat the spring waits for. There is no time for thought of himself. A man may do it without grace, of course, and he may curse the wind, the cold, and human frailty. But he will die a death to climb into the seat and pull the throttle. He may wish to be where there is light and heat and conversation. But now he must turn the ground. Now is the hard and painful work. If he does not, like as not everything else will be lost.
It may be hard for a boy to learn these things. He may be shamed to see his one-armed arthritic grandfather grab the fencepost driver from his hands, cussing the while, and drive with two hard swings, that recalcitrant post. But it is a temporary shame, and if he pays attention to the discipline, he will learn what young men need to learn: by the sweat of your brow you will earn it.
If the lessons are not received, then a man will die, in a myriad of ways. He may not get a chance to harvest again, or it may cost him another lifetime or two in debt to do so. Shame may get the better of the boy, and he retreat into himself, soft when he should be hard. Fearful and yielding when he should be made bold by anger. But there is another loss, perhaps in its way the most costly.
The repetition of the seasonal rounds always bring loss. The January calves will fail. The life of the farm will be dessicated by the banker. The ill-formed infant will miscarry. And a man must learn these losses well. He must take them in, if he is to live again. These are hard losses, to be sure, but sometimes, whether he will or no, a man may also lose his heart.
There is no law to this, he will find. It happens when it happens. Sometimes his effort will stave off this death, and he will make it through. But other times, he can try, and pray and cry, but it will still work its way to the end, and in it his heart will die. The strangeness of it all is that he may not even know it till it is far too late, and it is done. A sudden revelation, the secrets of dark hearts in the night told to him. He goes cold, and it will come to him in a day or two that he has been hollowed out. When or where he no longer knows, if ever he did. This is a cruel kind of death. But it too is necessary in its way.
Yet in this death, Kansas will teach a man the newness and hope of spring. A pitiful planting will, fed by winter snows, ripen to a richer harvest than imagined. The farmer may find the land itself released from the banker’s grip. Sometimes that baby will take her breath underneath the wide-open sky. There are such things as second chances.
But not always. For second chances are hard things. If a man’s soul isn’t properly set, if his heart is not strengthened just so, grace may still save him. But if he wills it, he can stay put, the living dead. Kansas will teach a man this, too.
The soul can, after all, choose its own destiny.
[Other Kansas reflections are here.]