Disconnected. That’s how I felt today.
I drove to Topeka to do a little research for a magazine article. It’s not a heavy-duty research piece, but it does need to correspond to Kansas History Month (January) and so I toured the Capitol. It seemed the best place to start.
I got there just in time to catch the 11:00 tour, led by a Kansas Historical Society volunteer. He walked us to the center—where we could look up and see the domes–where a gorgeous Christmas now stands. He talked about the marble in the building—marble from all over the world, he said.
He walked us to Representative Hall, and bragged about the cast iron and the custom art. The 22 karat gold leaf that adorns the ceiling. Across the way in the Senate Chamber, it’s more of the same. Copper and bronze columns. A grand pulpit. Windows imported from France. A 900 pound chandelier.
I lost count of how many times the volunteer said “it’s really a beautiful building.”
I can’t argue with that. Murals on the walls and the ceilings. Life sized limestone people keeping watchful gaze. Empty offices—sessions begin the second Monday of January—and mostly empty hallways, save for my fellow tourists and a lunchroom full of students, pulling lunch from their brown bags. The hallways were pin-drop silent, with only the sporadic clack clack clack of dress shoes on the pristine marble floors.
And the word that kept coming to me wasn’t beautiful or important or even impressive. It was disconnected.
I thought about how the place at which our leaders gather–the very place we send them with either our votes or our apathy, and entrust or hope that they think of the common good when they cast their votes–looks nothing like the Kansas that I know.
The Kansas I know is farmland and dust. The windows flake and are propped open on hot, muggy days with a stub of a leftover 2×4. The Kansas I know is dirt roads and endless fields, alive with the moos of livestock and the chatter of birds. The Kansas I know relies on farmers with rough, dirty hands and mud caked work boots. The Kansas I know is humble. Unassuming. Rich in family dinners rather than precious artifacts.
The Kansas I know is also technology and innovation. Rolled up sleeves and all-in attitudes. Strip malls and subdivisions. It’s sometimes obstinate and dogmatic. I’m not naïve; I know that the Kansas I grew up in is different than the one I live in now. I know that I’m a fleck of blue in a blood red state. I know that I don’t know enough about the issues to climb the 296 steps necessary to shout my opinions from atop the dome.
But I do know that the Kansas I know feels like a different world than the building I toured, and I can’t help but wonder if that, in itself, is part of our problem.