Thank You, Dear Friend

One time, in the midst of moving across country, I stopped at my friend Bardwell’s house with my Ford Escort packed to the gills, my toiletries unwisely buried behind one of the seats. I was in my mid-twenties. Bardwell must have been in his early seventies.

He took my face between his hands and looked at me with his twinkling blue eyes and transferred into me some knowing of my own preciousness, as Jim Finley would call it. I don’t recall the words he used, but I’m sure they included “love,” a word I sometimes have trouble using with even my closest friends, though never, since that visit, with him.

Bardwell taught me and many, many other college students Asian religions. He didn’t reduce religion to a system of ideas but rather offered us a way of being in the world, a way he practiced. I always thought that when the Tao Te Ching talked about a sage, it was talking about someone like Bardwell.

He marked our papers in green or purple felt-tip pen and reading his comments felt intimate, as if the ink held the attention and love with which he responded to our efforts. He taught us to be careful with words: childlike not childish, pacifist not passive. He encouraged us to take risks in our writing and thinking by rewarding the successes and not paying too much attention to the failures as long as there was some daring in the attempt.

Long after I had graduated, he was the first to tell me the concept that now shapes my seeking in this life—that there is no such thing as our individual identities, that we are all parts of a single whole. He may have been saying it all along, but when I finally heard it, it stuck, though I had no idea what he meant.

There are many wonderful facets to Bardwell—his gentle and quick sense of humor, his love of puns and baseball, the way his smile sometimes reveals the six-year-old inside—but as ever, when I want to capture the essence of something or someone, I’ll steal a few lines from William Stafford, this time from the poem “You Reading This, Be Ready”:

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now?

That’s where Bardwell lives from—that breathing respect for all and for the reality of our interconnectedness held in the awareness that it is all gift. Should you ever be lucky enough to meet him, you’ll feel it.

9 thoughts on “Thank You, Dear Friend

  1. You have captured my uncle quite eloquently and beautifully; thank you for this. I really appreciate the words you have written and honor the fact that you have written them about Bardwell. While he would never seek it, he is most deserving.

  2. Rachel, I’m very, very grateful for your post about Bard Smith. Thank you! I want to say a few words about my own journey with this remarkable man, a journey that’s been going on for more than fifty years.

    I arrived at Carleton College in 1957 and graduated in 1961. Later this month I’ll turn 76—around the same age Bard was when you stopped to see him on your cross-country trip. During my undergraduate years, three professors changed by life—Bard was one of them. And ever since I left Carleton, Bard has continued to open doors for me—doors to insight, doors to opportunity, doors to laughter and life!

    I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have had Bard and Charlotte in my life for more than half a century. Those two dear people are among my best friends, and Bard continues to be one of my best teachers in more ways than I can name.

    There’s no way I can improve upon your loving and brilliant description of Bard—I can only say YES! I’m a great William Stafford fan, and the lines you quote from “You Reading This, Be Ready” describe Bard with perfection. As one who HAS been lucky enough to meet, know and love Bard and Charlotte, I can easily feel the truth in everything you wrote about him.

    There are no words adequate to thank this great man for all his gifts to me and to the world—as you know, he’s touched hundreds of Carleton students in the same ways he’s touched us. And there are no words adequate to thank the cosmos for the gift Bard is.

    Like all of us, Bard is part of the Whole, as he teaches and as you say. But I have to say that the person known as Bard Smith represents that Wholeness with singular and uncommon grace!

    P.S. In honor of Bard’s ever-present sense of humor, I need to add a Buddhist joke that I probably learned from him: A Buddhist walks up to a hot dog vendor in NYC, and the vendor asks, “Whadda ya want?” The Buddhist replies, “Make me one with everything.” (If there’s anyone who doesn’t get that joke, take one of Bard’s classes on Buddhism. He’s one of those people who understands that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly!)

    • Thanks, Parker, this is lovely. “Singular and uncommon grace”–exactly. You and I must have almost bookended Bardwell’s career. He must have only been at Carleton a few years when you arrived, and he retired after my junior year.

  3. Rachel, As a 1990 Carleton grad, I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know Bardwell and have been the recipient of his wisdom and grace. I still have copies of my marked papers and the Ten Oxherding Pictures sits on my shelf. Thank you for your beautiful post.

    And, Parker, thanks for the joke. It’s a good one.

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