Saturday, April 16, 2022

There are lots of happy faces here at Bard.


There are lots of happy faces here at Bard.

This was a popular quote in the mid-70's when I was a student at Bard College.  Well, it was just popular among my little collection of friends.  It started with one particular friend-- a very tall, gangly guy named Russ.  He was prone to saying odd, but brilliant things.  One night our group was sitting in the little cafe in Kline Commons.  We were engaged in  a heated discussion on the war in Viet Nam, the capitalist pigs (that's how we talked in those days--no offense if there's a capitalist reading this), Nixon, the Watergate Investigation and the fact that there were no more poppy seed bagels left, when Russ suddenly asked "what if this dog started to talk?"

We stopped our conversation and looked down at a black dog sitting next to another student.  (We were allowed to bring our pets to Bard back in the day.)

We all looked at the dog and then at Russ.

Someone asked Russ how he could possibly be thinking about whether a dog could talk when the world was on fire and the end was near.

But Russ didn't seem to hear the question.  He focused on the dog.  "What do you suppose this dog would say?"

Again, we looked at him.  I do recall that one of us snarled at Russ and perhaps asked him to leave.  

Russ did not leave.

However, the next day he went to see Dean Sugatt, Bard's dean of students--the charming lady in the photograph, above.  Russ told her that everyone appears to be miserable at Bard.  I'm not sure what proof he offered her, but I can imagine.  We were a serious bunch.  We wore berets and all black and smoked a lot of cigarettes and talked about our  existential angst.  We wore long peasant skirts and danced at night in the woods under the full moon reciting Anne Sexton's poetry and quoting Allen Ginsberg--I saw the best minds of our generation destroyed by madness. 

"Miserable?"  Dean Sugatt asked Russ, shaking her head.  And, then this is where the famous quote was born.  She told him, "why, there are lots of happy faces at Bard!"

Later, when Russ described this interchange to our little group, we laughed, but not in a haha that's amusing kind of laugh.  We laughed bitterly, sardonically, full of despair and sure that the world was a terrible place, everything was hopeless and there was no room for happy faces. 

Here we are--almost fifty years later and I've uncovered this postcard.  Now, I think, Dean Sugatt right.  There were lots of happy faces.  It's just that--at the time, we just didn't recognize what a happy face looks like.  

But now, I know better.

Happiness looks like this.  Exactly what's in front of you.  Happiness is life.  Happiness is suffering.  Happiness is confusion.  Happiness is a willingness to take a step into the unknown, and then another and another, without any reassurance of where this will lead you, not knowing if the next step is off the cliff and straight into the dark abyss.  

An yes, no matter what we might say, this moment is happiness.  Because, that's all we have.  This moment, and perhaps if we're lucky, the next.

1 comment:

  1. I gotta say the 2 options, off a cliff or into the dark abyss are not very appealing Jamie :))
    I wanted to go to Bard and got in but my parents would not allow me. Who would I have been if I had gone? Instead I went to boring, ole BU, where my older sister went before me. They assumed I would follow in her footsteps (get married etc.). I got into even more trouble there :)) Maybe they shoulda let me go to Bard “ full of happy faces”


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