Kansas Ground

The memories I carry of Kansas are marked with the feel of grass and earth, of wind, of open, arching skies, of the chill night air pierced by starlight, and the figure of a gibbous moon, chasing me as I looked out the car window, the night going before and after.

There were summers setting fence with Grandpa. That cold Thanksgiving as I sat in the pickup while Dad drilled winter wheat. Football fields and back yards, mowing lawns, weeding gardens, dust and grit, and mud.

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Kansas Prayers

Take a seven year old boy, have him lie awake at night contemplating his salvation, and it will not be a surprise if he hears the voice of God telling him to be baptized. And he will be baptized. Take that same boy a few months later and put him in a summer Little League baseball uniform, and he will be a boy that prays. And if he prays, he will learn a thing or two about God.

So let him pray before every game that his team will win. And let his team win every single game until the final championship. And let that boy pray with confidence that his team would win the championship. Then let his team lose. He will wrack his little brain and pummel his heart trying to figure out what went wrong. And if he does it right, he’ll learn a thing or two about God.

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Kansas and the Healing of Memories

On the farm, one is required not only to take in the silence that lurks joyful along the rolling prairie but to make use of it. The tractor will spit and sputter. The meadowlark will trill in the sunlight. The wind will push along its way. But there are the moments, sitting still with the farm truck shut off when it will slip over a man and widen him out.

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Listening to the Silence

When he spoke, it sounded to the young boy like he was gargling gravel and grit. The quality fascinated him as he listened to his grandfather intone the prandial prayers. As the runny eggs and the bacon were being finished and the last cup of coffee was slurped, he’d been given instructions as to the chores to be done before heading out to set endposts in concrete. They’d later loop barbed wire diagonally in an X around the two thick stumps. He’d be given the task of twisting the barbed wire to increase the tension. The pliers he would use would slip, slicing off his fingernail. Between now and then there would be silence. He would be expected to remember and to know all that he had to do. This was the way of it. Questions might be answered once, but after that greeted with exasperation. Then silence punctuated with a grunt and the shaking of the head. He’d have to figure it out himself.

It was a hard way for a young boy to prove himself.

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Kansas Injuries

There are wounds and there are wounds. Some you can live with. Others forever change your life. Some heal. Others never do. Some have a didactic benefit. A boy who thinks he can parachute off the roof of his house by holding the corners of a bedsheet over his head can thank the teaching of a throbbing ankle for the lesson as to why this is not a good idea. Others, however, seem to have no discernible benefit at all. There is pain. Then there is living in pain. The lonely parents standing over the empty bassinet surely have a sense that however many children follow after, that empty space will not be filled.

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Kansas Silences

In the early winter mornings, as the skies are lightening, the dark reluctantly letting go its hold, a hidden sun spreading a dull grey over the landscape, a man will awake to silence. He will heave himself out of bed, dress, put on his coat, hat and gloves, and don his boots and walk outside. He has not taken his coffee or his breakfast. He may squint a little out of habit, and tilt his chin just so out of reflex against the cold. Then the crunch of his boots in the snow will sound like gunshots over the blanketed prairie.

He will greet the silence with his own wordlessness. Whatever it is that may lie in his heart, having been ruminated on while he slept, he will slam the door on it and lock it within. There is work to do. No time for words. And what would he say? Would he toss forth all the foolishness lying in his chest? Words are costly. He would not waste them so.

There is another silence. In the pressing heat of the summer noonday on the prairie, the wind dead and still, a man will find the words stifled in his mouth as sweat drips down his neck and runs the length of his spine. Standing by the pickup, the water jug no longer cool, the silence is heavy with something like a dread. He will not know if he has the strength left to finish the day, for there are eight or nine more hours yet to go, and the heat of the afternoon has not yet reached its desiccating fulness. He grabs the bill of his hat, pulls it from his head and rubs the wet fabric of his shirt across his forehead, grimacing. He is silent now not from the sense of the myriad foolishness of his words, but rather from the desolate emptiness from which they come. There is nothing in him to say.

He will finish his long day and head indoors for dinner. He will doff his boots, wash his hands and face, and pull his chair up to the table. His iced coffee will sit to his right, his place will have been set. Barely a word will have been spoken. He will say grace in the Jacobean manner, because that is the rhythm and the cadence he knows. The mistress of the farm will fill his ears with talk of the day. She has stored this up just for his hearing. He will punctuate her narratives with the nod of a head, a rumbling grunt, a monosyllabic “yep.” He will have said nothing, but somehow she will have been satisfied.

Then comes the final silence of the day as the man lies next his wife in the marital bed. The damp heat barely alleviated by the anemic wind that just rustles the lace curtains. Theirs has already been the kiss bidding farewell till the morning, neither knowing if they will wake again. On his heart the man has much to say. The silence has filled him this day. But now he is weary and does not know how to begin.

So he reaches out a hand underneath the covers and grabs the slender hand of his mate. He gives a squeeze. And soon he is asleep, his heart again ruminating in the silence.

Kansas Desperation and the Ground of Faith

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.

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