In Memory of Andrew Barden

Andrew Sears Barden (12/18/72 – 10/8/17)

Nels' Tribute to a Fool...

A fool can be senseless or unwise. But a court fool brings joy to the king’s court. A dancing fool loves to dance. A holy fool “subverts convention or orthodoxy or varies from social conformity in order to reveal spiritual or moral truth” (American Heritage Dictionary). These were all reflected in Andrew’s life.

Andrew was my “brother from another mother” and co-founder of In Jest. Along with my mom, he was an instigation… I mean, inspiration for what I do. Though he moved to the west coast and on to other pursuits, he remained a lifelong friend, fellow oddball, entrepreneur, tree hugger, lover of souls, and peace seeker.

Lifelong Friend

Andrew and I first met while still in our mothers’ wombs. Both our parents were ministers with the United Methodist Church in central New York. (At his parents’ 50th anniversary party, we shared how we first played together under tables at conferences in our diapers. He quipped, “We were what, 12 years old? Still wear yours?” I said, “Depends!”)

He was funny. And not always on purpose. When we were young, he’d pour a heaping bowl of dry cereal and then add milk. Predictably, the cereal would spill onto the table. Every time. I asked, “Why not take less?” “I’m hungry.” “You can always get more.” He’d just grin, wipe his chin, and already be on to something else.

That was Andrew. He wanted a big bowl of life!

Fellow Oddball

Many early memories involved juggling and clowning around, especially at Camp Casowasco in Moravia, NY. He was typically the more adventurous one. We’d get hopped up on Skittles and Mountain Dew, and he’d propose something brilliant like, “Let’s throw these clubs at each other!”

The challenges escalated after that. “Why not fire? Unicycles? Fire while ON unicycles?!” Well, here’s why not…

As teens, we showed off our fire juggling skills at camp. And it worked! However… We did it indoors with a low ceiling and set off the smoke alarms, and the campers had to evacuate. We said, “That was stupid. Let’s not do that again.” Yet we did!

We upped our game at a conference held at Roberts Wesleyan College. “What about smoke?” “No problem, high ceiling.” This time it was in a proper theater, with Andrew on a balance board and me on a tall unicycle. And it worked! However… I dismounted at an angle and fell off the stage. He hopped down, then we both popped up and said, “Ta da!” Unfortunately, smoke rises. The alarms went off and everyone had to evacuate. It was deja vu, all over again.

In Jest Co-founder

In college, Andrew found out about The Circus Kingdom, a nonprofit Christian circus devoted to spreading joy and good will. While I was doing more soul searching than adventure seeking at the time, we ended up touring the northeast U.S., doing big shows as well as work with hospitals, rest homes, developmental centers, and prisons.

Along the way, we developed our talents and tried everything from acrobatics to wire walking to fire breathing. My mom was a fire eater, so you’d think that last skill might come easily. You’d be wrong. Fortunately, my eyebrows have grown back.

Soon after the circus, we co-founded In Jest: The Antic Arts Company. He jumped in with both feet to pursue performing, while I was finishing school and starting a family. Then he chose to go back to school, right when I decided to pursue performing and speaking.

Looking back, I can’t imagine doing all that I’ve done apart from his influence. Sure, there was mom too. But my brothers turned out normal. Okay, that’s debatable! The point is they didn’t have Andrew. I did.

And Much More

We’ve only touched on friend, oddball, and In Jest co-founder. We haven’t gotten to entrepreneur, tree hugger, lover of souls, or peace seeker. And there are more great stories… Boating, fishing, and fireworks at the cottage… Telling a spooky campfire story and Andrew charging out of the woods to scare the campers half to death… His 30th birthday at Chuck E Cheese and playing in the ball pit with my kids and his mother…

There was also him living in an RV and going to California, where he considered joining a monastery. That’s where he met his wonderful wife, Sunny. I still don’t get exactly how that went. How do you relinquish worldly attachments and get a woman’s phone number? In short, their common pursuit of mindfulness and contemplative living brought them together.

The fruit of Andrew’s spiritual journey was evident… His heart for service, environmental consciousness, and non-aggression… Choosing unity over division and building up over tearing down… His ideas for “philanthropic entrepreneurship” or compassionate capitalism… How he was just as comfortable hanging with yogis, church youth, hippies, and corporate executives…

Closing Thoughts

Andrew respected the tradition of Kriya Yoga and Paramahansa Yogananda, who believed in the harmony of the teachings of Jesus Christ with all true spirituality. Yogananda taught some things which I believe might help when we’ve lost someone, if we listen with our hearts:

We would not be human if we did not miss loved ones. When a dear one dies, instead of grieving unreasonably, realize that he has gone on… Rejoice that he is free.

Our real self, the soul, is immortal. We may sleep for a little while in that change called death, but we can never be destroyed. We exist, and that existence is eternal. The wave comes to the shore, and then goes back to the sea; it is not lost.

We can grieve reasonably, acknowledging our sadness. We can also rejoice, embracing remembrance over regret. In time, we can even find peace, perhaps watching the waves on the lake and realizing that souls are not lost, except to waters of joy.

From joy people are born; for joy they live; in joy they melt at death.
–The Bhagavad Gita

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
–Psalms 16:11

Within my soul I possess the unconquerable, unchangeable, ever new bliss of God.
O divine silent Laughter, be enthroned beneath the canopy of my countenance and smile through my soul.
–The Light of Smiles, by Yogananda

. . .

Our Father in Heaven, I desire
To honor your name
To see your kingdom come, your will be done
To that end, I intend
To embrace the adventures and the mysteries
To remember that we are all connected
To be present, playful, and thankful
To know the bliss of God and to smile through my soul

To have a big bowl of life