There is a single truth that one learns on the Kansas farm: catastrophe and destruction are never further away than the next sunrise. With all the planning and ingenuity, with all the government stipends, with all the backing of insurance, the fact remains a Kansas farmer is the world’s most desperate gambler or it’s most quintessential saint.
The Kansas farmer wrestles not against flesh and blood in getting his crops or his livestock to market. He wrestles not against the banker, the insurance man, or his fellow man. His is not a calculus of hybrids and concentration, nor the karmic discipline of early rising and late resting. He is a man who must live ever on the edge of the illusion that everything depends on whether he discs the land on the right day, on whether he irrigates on the right timetable, on whether his cows calve at the proper times. All the while knowing that blight and blizzard, death and drought stalk his every step.
But still he puts his hand to the plow, fires up the old Massey-Ferguson, rubs the stubble on his chin, and leans forward. His is either the most reckless of hopes or the most dogged of optimisms. Then again, his is a desperation that may just be another word for faith. He hopes in that which is not seen, for if he hopes in what he can see, how is that hope of any kind? So let the ground crack and splinter in drought, let the markets fall, the Kansas farmer will still believe the rain will come. And when it doesn’t, he girds his heart and believes it will come anyway.
When brought to the end of all things human–all his back breaking effort, all the ingenuity of forecasts and futures, all the safety nets of finance and premiums–the farmer will believe, with all the tenacity of a conspiracy theorist, that the answer to his prayers will come. Some might call this a form of functional insanity. For the farmer it is a faith on which his very existence is built. Apart from this faith he does not exist. He might do other things. And those crushed by this process of sweat and desperation, those driven from this existence centered wholly on faith, do go on to do other things. But if they are farming men, they do these other things while having died a little inside. They might smile and hug the grandchildren, but there is the faint longing in the heart, never stilled, for the soil and the sun, the lonely herd beneath the blue heaven.
No, the Kansas farmer lives always on the edge of desperation, always on the borderland between the seen and known and the unseen and hoped for. In him echoes the cry he hears of a creation longing for the revelation of God’s sons. He knows by a process beyond and greater than reason that he is upheld by the invisible hand. As he stands in dusty boots looking out on barrenness he casts his heart, his being, outward in a wild toss of faith. He hopes, blindly and with little sensible evidence, that as he falls outward into the seeming abyss, his outstretched hand will be grasped and he will be drawn out of chaos onto the firm and lush prairie of the soul.
Settled on such a ground, he can meet his desperation and the emptiness he sees all around him and know it for what it is. The hidden presence of sacredness and help.