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We Laughed Until We Cried.

March 11, 2020

14 of 46

Cornell University is commonly dissed as a “second tier Ivy”. And almost everyone I knew there in the 1970’s (knowing many) had been rejected by Harvard, Princeton or Yale. Including me.

Unless you went to the School of Architecture. Cornell was really 7 undergraduate colleges, including State Schools, like its College of Agriculture. One of the private colleges was the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. It was then, and has been for about 50 years (with a few off years) declared by those who declare such things as the “Best Architecture School In The Country”.

My freshman class was its largest ever, 140, because the college strove to widen its doors to those who were not like me: private schooled, white, male, legacy. So much so that I assume I should feel pretty good that I got in. But I did not. My friend was going to Harvard – who, without an architecture school turned me down (She was turned down by her legacy, Princeton after I turned them down (!)). (I just liked Cornell, more than them, and Penn). Ridiculous.

Cornell that year stretched to admit 40 women, and perhaps 8 African American students. One of them, Joe Barnes, sat on his drafting school facing me in the second semester of our freshman year. We were both relatively inept, but trying. So we spent a bunch of late nights together in 1974.

It was deeply fun.

He looked like a full-on nerd, black, horizontal, eyeglasses. Horizontal, clamped shut mouth, with tightly knitted brow, close cut hair. Until we were all grinding in the studio. He could laugh harder and louder than anyone but me, and would udder, in some weird voice or other, insanely obscene oaths at virtually no instigation at 3:15AM. I would literally fall on the floor, in tears of joyous release of the extreme tension for we 18 year olds.

Then, after that freshman year, he like more than ultimately half of our class, opted to get out of the school. I do not know, but perhaps to the Engineering School. I opted to work (or more accurately not work so well) in my dorm room, not the studio, and I fully forgot about him.

Until my class legacy minders posted his notice for a memorial service. He died a week ago.

He was 6 months older than I. Trim. Had zero habits or activities then that might end a life too soon. And I have no idea how he died. But he did.

My mind this AM flashed on the connection to 150 years ago, the mind of Emily Dickinson. She knew what I learned before it happened, and shared it, to and for herself, to no one in her life, then me, and everyone else, after:

“That this should feel the need of

The same as those that lived

Is such a Feat of Irony

As never was — achieved —

Not satisfied to ape the Great

In his simplicity

The small must die, as well as He —

Oh the Audacity —”

We are all “the small” even those who were anointed “the Great” like Joe and I were, so many years ago. We become as small as any dead person, as Jesus was, spiked to timbers after the Hell was beaten out of him, only for him to return to it, then us. I think of this, as well as Joe, this Lent.

We beat each other up pretty well too. I know Joe did. He knew that architecture at Cornell was not the right place for him, even the “Best Architecture School In The Country”. I, too, knew that I was nowhere near those who could do the work.

But in a moment of fear, we laughed.

God was there, because, well, he is always there. Whether we know it or not.

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