Clay Wirestone: With Kansas elections approaching fast, I searched for peace in this tranquil hideaway (Column)

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Next to the Watkins Museum of History in downtown Lawrence sits a tiny park, a mere 90 by 92 feet. If you don’t keep your eyes open when strolling along the Massachusetts Street sidewalk, you could easily miss it.

Walk up the concrete path and behind the cast iron fence, however, and you’ll find an oasis of calm.

The Japanese Friendship Garden marks the relationship between Lawrence and sister city Hiratsuka, Japan. Tucked into the modest space are a path, trees, bench, lantern, stone tower, rock garden, and detail after detail. According to the city, it was dedicated 20 years ago, yet it remains a timeless and transporting place.

I wanted to visit the garden, with Election Day bearing down with all the force of a tornado and hurricane and earthquake combined, to settle my thoughts for a few quiet moments.

I wanted peace.

I wanted respite from the rhetoric, shelter from the sturm und drang. I wanted time to think as Kansas and the nation face another pivot point in their political journey.

The park feels most vibrant during the summer months, and perhaps I did as well. The abortion-rights amendment battle captured nationwide attention, and writing about that struggle for the hearts of Kansas voters meant capturing a historic time. No one, least of all the voters, expected such a dramatic outcome. National pundits are still wrapping their minds around it.

Now the park has calmed, with yellow and brown and red leaves strewn about underfoot. You can see a bit more of the surrounding red-brick buildings. Squirrels dart to and fro, rustling beside the path, then racing up a tree. This midterm contest, in all its white-hot fervor and rage, has left me drained and tired. If I had leaves, I may have lost them.

In both vibrant and restrained times, however, this park soothes and nurtures. And I need that. 

We all need that, especially now.

In my former life as a newspaper editor, I sometimes gave an election night talk to the copy editors and page designers. They were responsible for summing up who won and who lost. They waited most of the night for reporters to write stories, then spent a furious hour or two whipping the next morning’s edition into shape.

You may want a certain result, I told them. You may absolutely believe that one candidate or another will win. But what you want or believe has little to do with what actually happens. Whoever wins, I said, you will have to put out a paper for the next day. Don’t lose sight of that goal, and don’t lose sight of the readers who depend on you for accurate information.

A stone tower stands among the greenery and paths of the Japanese Friendship Garden in Lawrence.
A stone tower stands among the greenery and paths of the Japanese Friendship Garden in Lawrence. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)

I think about that talk now, as I sit in the park. We will all have our jobs and our lives, whatever happens on Tuesday and the days and weeks to come. Our friends and families and communities will depend on us to keep going, to keep doing our best, no matter who wins and by how much.

This is the peace I’m looking for today. Not just for me, not just for you, not just for Kansas Reflector readers.

Sometimes it feels as though we have passed a point of no return for our state and country. I’ve written about that myself, and recently. Yet I fervently believe that we should all — Republicans and Democrats and independents alike — carry the belief that our democracy can be nurtured and sustained through shared caring. Whatever our country is, and whatever it becomes, it will need as many people of goodwill as possible.

In this small park, on this quiet day, I wish the best for you. I wish that you find this peace as well. And if you’re in Lawrence, the park is here, always ready for you.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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