Some time ago I was asked by a couple of editors in California to write a short essay about Kansas. It was titled “A sense of glory,” and became the introduction to a large book called Kansas 24/7, hundreds of photographs and text, a panorama of life in this state. The book, published in 2004, was one of fifty 24/7s, each reflecting the experience of a particular state, a massive project from the editors of the popular Day in the Life series of books.
My essay opened with the season’s first tornado, in March – “a pewter hook” curling down from the black skies over northern Edwards County, lifting specks from the distant tableland. There was no significant damage, the storm’s furious churning confined mostly to pasture and crop land. Nevertheless it had happened, and people had watched it with a careful eye, wary that it could turn in an instant and put them and their homes in peril. You never know about such things.
I said, to stretch the metaphor,that this seemed to be the way things were in Kansas at that point. Life was often like watching storms, some of them mild, others more hypnotic, all of them consequential. School budgets, health care, farm aid, urban sprawl, jobs and the economy, seasonal politics, taxes and you-name-it, the nettles and necessities in living on the plains and governing at the Capitol. A comfortable life, if cautious.
We were getting along then, but how well? “Today the challenge has changed from overcoming hardship to outlasting disappointment,” I had said. “Promise is put to the test as a state, again, rolls up its sleeves… a kind of mature compromise has settled in as people look to keep their schools sound, their stores open, their farms breathing, their jobs whole, their families healthy, their lives real.
“Meantime, the rich promise of Ad Astra per Aspera has worn to a filament of hope. It is still uttered now and then, but with care and prudence and an eye up, scanning for the next storm.”
In the 12 years since, that filament of hope has reached a snapping point, and the next storm is here, again. How many more can we take?
‒ JOHN MARSHALL