I’ve been thinking about the hows and whys of we decided on Emporia as a place to retire. We’d gotten fed up with the corporate grind of Memphis and decided it was time to begin living a sensible life. After ruling out Florida (too many retirees wearing seersucker for our tastes) and Taos, New Mexico (too new age), we sank our roots down here.
Nancy wasn’t so sure of Emporia at first. In her mind, Emporia had seen better days back in the 70’s when she was attending Emporia State. But once we plunked the money down for our home/money pit, she was fine. I think it was the challenge of making something beautiful out of nothing.
That was fifteen years ago and we’re still here, still hanging in.
There’s a lot I love about Emporia. I love sitting on my front porch in the evening and saying “Hi” to neighbors as they pass by. I love being part of a gritty, non-traditional church. I love the comfortable, protected feeling I get when I come home from Kansas City and see that Taliban vintage tank guarding exit 130. I love long morning walks with Nancy. And, I love the vastness of the Flint Hills and the sense of smallness I feel whenever I have the opportunity to stop at some strategic point on the road and ponder my place in this vast universe.
Several years ago, on my way to Wichita, I stopped and penned a bit of metered prose that expressed why I love the Flint Hills and the life Nancy and I share here. I’ll close this column with those words:
It’s the cusp of dawn. I’m chasing Orion’s Belt and bull-haulers down the Kansas Turnpike. At mile marker 109, about a furlong or two south of the cattle pens, I stop.
The occasional rush of southbound traffic breaks the dawn silence. Like a general poised in his appointed place, I review the early morning parade. Saints and scoundrels, gospel singers and politicians, truckers, ranchers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, mothers, fathers, children, all pass by. Problems and opportunities wind their way down the highway with them.
I touch the highway sign. Mile marker 109. I feel the bits of rust creeping up on the metal. It’s man-made, temporal, placed on the edge of the eternal. It speaks. “This is where you are.” It speaks of commerce and progress passing by. It speaks of cattle and concept drawings on their journeys past a solitary milepost planted on the edge of eternity.
I turn, take a step, and cast my gaze across the prairie. Like the storied astronaut of my youth, that one small step transports me from one world to another. Thoughts pass by. Some pass quietly, humming like the Toyotas and Fords on the highway. Others I hear in the distance. Their low, grinding hums become roars as they draw near, like the Peterbilts and Kenworths hauling their precious cargoes from Chicago to Dallas or the Twin Cities to San Antonio.
While the darkness has not yet surrendered to the day, there are hints of color along the rim of the eastern sky. I sense that they carry the faint whisper of an announcement of the millennium to come. The ageless ritual proceeds, moment by moment. Light overcomes the darkness. The unbroken sky and the endless sea of grass now join together in a hymn of praise. The morning breeze caresses the tallgrass. The blades of grass, in turn, wave gently to and fro, worshippers caught up in the glory of this moment.
Thoughts glide effortlessly through the air, then stop to gently kiss the earth. The earth gratefully receives the kiss from above and pleads, “Maranatha…..Maranatha.”
A hawk circles above, wings outstretched, reaching for an unseen spire. As he circles, the dawn sun touches him, revealing his priestly robes and eyes of fire.
I sense that I’ve entered a great cathedral. I’m overwhelmed by my own smallness. I fear. The hawk descends slowly, gracefully and speaks. “You are indeed small. But, fear not. You’re known…..You’re known. This is where you are. Mile marker 109. This is the place where the line between now and forever is drawn. Here you own nothing, but are given the grace to be a part of everything. The language of the world you left is ownership. The language here is stewardship. This is the place where moth and rust do not corrupt.”
His appointed ministry complete, he now lays hold of the morning currents and moves effortlessly off to the east.