Passing Through

Passing through, passing through.

Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

glad that I ran into you.

Tell the people that you saw me

passing through.

–– D. Blakeslee, 1948.

One year ago I was finishing a blog article about the 2015 graduation. I had just come back from my time abroad and was glad about the chance to reflect a bit on travelling, on departures, on community and hospitality. Constant leaving and returning is built into the core of the BCB community. If, as a student, you spend your third year abroad, you will see the students of every other generation for only one year, and each year new people find their way to the college from all walks of life and some leave to follow different roads. It is in that sense a very dynamic community and I was wondering then, in my article, whether hospitality could perhaps be the name of the principle that connects us here, in this place where everyone is host and guest at the same time.

Recently I found a song which expresses some of those thoughts and feelings much better than I did then and then I can do now. Having just graduated, I would like to share it with you here by way of farewell.

It’s a simple and beautiful folk song written in 1948 by then student Dick Blakeslee called ‘Passing Through’. He combined spiritual and political themes, not without melancholy and not without hope and happiness either. Leonard Cohen made it famous (here he sings it with Joan Baez among others), and this is Pete Seeger’s version:

Take for example the question in the second line of the first stanza, in Seeger’s version, which will ring eerily familiar to 4th years and graduates (and others, I’m sure):

“I saw Adam leave the Garden with an apple in his hand,

I said “Now you’re out, what are you going to do?”

The song also offers some answers, with perhaps not just a little bit of wisdom in them and which you might also hear in a typical graduation speech: to grow and to build things (“plant some crops and pray for rain, maybe raise a little cane”); that life is too short to let anger and enmity be one’s guide (“speak of love, not hate – things to do, it’s getting late”); and the third stanza reminds us that even though we are just passing through it is worth to “fight for what is right”.

Adam concludes his response above saying: “I’m an orphan now, and I’m only passing through.” He won’t return to his Garden. Yet, as Dean Catherine Toal put it in her graduation remarks, there is hope that those who graduate or otherwise leave the community will not “become strangers.” And that the feeling of the song here is not wholly unrelatable, I think, only testifies to the familial character that our college community has at its best. My favorite part of the song is the chorus, though:

“Passing through, passing through.

Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

glad that I ran into you.

Tell the people that you saw me

passing through.”

“Sometimes happy, sometimes blue” captures it well in its simplicity, and I am sure glad – and much more than just glad! – that I “ran into” so many people here. The happiness was always due to them. If I were to make a version of that song, I would like to make one small modification, however. In the last stanza it says (in Cohen’s version):

“We’re all on one road, and we’re only passing through.”

In that spirit, and picking up the reflections from my article from last year, I would like the last line of the chorus to say:

“Tell the people that we’re all just

passing through.”

On many roads and sometimes on one big road, and always at our own pace. And occasionally we run into each other and then we walk together for a little while. Those moments make all the difference. Let us make the most of them. 

I would like to conclude this little reflection by thanking the people who’ve travelled the route ‘BCB blog’ with me this semester: first, Bendetta, whose critical eye caught all the typos that slipped my attention, who kept us organised, and always challenged us to come up with new ideas. Marga, your prolific and passionate writing always captures vividly the highlights, as well as the more hidden gems, of our community life. I am very happy that Marga will be taking over as an editor of the blog next term and I cannot think of anyone who would be more fit for the job. Andy Xiao, Benjamin, and Ronni created beautiful interviews, film reviews, and even, for the first time, comic strips that often made me laugh, and think, and wonder. I hope we will hear their voice on the blog also in the future! Last but not least, Hana, who took over the Kulturbahn newsletter on short notice and handled it with both great care and professional ease. It was a pleasure working with you all and I hope that you, dear reader, enjoyed their contributions as much as I did!  

Auf Wiedersehen!


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