Chasing Beauty in Kansas / by Liz Brown

Metropolitan Coffee : Hutchinson, Kansas

Metropolitan Coffee : Hutchinson, Kansas

This is my view right now. Or at least it was when I began writing. I’ve since finished both the donut and the coffee and I have no regrets. Yes, this is a story about beauty. No, don't worry: I'm not just going to ramble about how beautiful donuts and coffee are. You'll see.

Right now I’m at a restaurant-style black table near a window at a coffee shop in a strip mall in Hutchinson, which is somewhere in the middle of Kansas. I arrived in Kansas last night at about 9pm and drove 3.5 hours through the darkness to reach Hutchinson. So I didn’t have a great concept of what Kansas was like until about 5 hours ago. But I did notice two things about Kansas: there were very few cars and there were thousands and thousands of stars. I’m not exaggerating. Yes, I’ve been outside before. I’ve seen the sky. But not like this.

It was all I could do not to crane my head out the window to my left just to look at them. Eyes on the road, Liz! But c’mon—have you seen those stars? How can you look at that striped bit of pavement when there are galaxies encompassing your entire existence? It was, again, all I could do not to pull over and get out of my car and just stare. Hours could pass; I wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care because this—all of this smallness of being and bigness of everything—this was part of the fullness of being alive.

But three things kept me from stopping. First, it was bitterly cold. Single digits and windy. I’m a Midwesterner; I’ve got plenty of grit, but I also only have 10 fingers and I’d like to keep that amount in the double digits, if possible. Second, I was staying with a friend and I didn’t want to arrive at 4am or some such ridiculously late time with my only excuse as: but, there were stars! Third, I was literally in the middle of nowhere. I hate that the world is such a place that this has to be a thought, but if someone killed me, no one would hear me and no one would find me because there was no one else there. So I didn’t stop. 

However, I definitely twisted my neck up and to the left on more than one occasion because when there’s beauty like that, it’s hard to look at anything else. It would be akin to the groom staring at the wedding cake when his bride is right in front of him. Why would you ever want to look at anything else?

In one moment of joy, I couldn’t contain it. I rolled in windows down, stuck my arm out into the 70mph bitter cold, and yelled, a wondrous whooping yell, like someone who has just seen land after a long journey across the sea. Ahoy! I have found something beautiful and I am alive and I cannot contain it all!

I didn’t always used to see beauty everywhere like this. I found most of the Midwest rather bland compared to the western states. Chicago and my camera gave me new eyes and I never want to go back. I want to be an excavator of beautiful things because I deeply believe that beautiful things are always found even in the most unlikely places.

Because in the light of day, Kansas is indeed flat. It is indeed very brown and very gray. Granted, it is the winter so perhaps that’s not fair to presume Kansas is always very brown and very gray. However, today is the only day I’ve been to Kansas, so today is all I have to base my presumptions on, so if I’m wrong, please forgive me and invite me back to Kansas to prove me wrong.

But here’s the thing. How you see things is a choice. Chasing beauty is less about finding beauty and more about choosing to see it. Rather than chase beauty, choose it.

I can drive through Kansas and see something rather mediocre and non-dramatic. Or I can choose to see the ombre of beiges as a tidal wave of untouched simplicity. Of a background to a story. Today, it’s the background to my story. I can choose to chase the sunset here (I’ve heard they’re amazing) and to gawk unashamedly at the stars. Life is short and I want to wallow fully in beauty. I want to be as excited about Kansas as hippos are excited about mud. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, and I do think Kansas is quite a bit nicer than mud, but let’s not get distracted. I want to every single day dive into life, expecting it to be beautiful, and knowing that it will be simply because I choose to see it that way. Kansas is beautiful. You just have to roll down your window and notice.