Monday, February 13, 2012

Dr. Kenyon

There was a professor who taught philosophy in the small liberal arts college I attended who let me live in his house for two summers. He lived there near the college with his wife, three kids and rambunctious dog. The family was glad to have students stay there while they spent their summers with their family in Pennsylvania. All they asked was that we pay the utilities and not break too much of their stuff.

For both of the summers I lived there, there was an overlap of at least two weeks where we were in all in the house together. I'd end up on a small bed upstairs with their teenage daughter and whatever exchange student was living there at the time. Or another year my friend Betsy and I crammed ourselves into a tiny room off the garage, so small that one of us slept on a mattress on the floor and had to lean it against the wall during the day so we could get around. They had a window air conditioning unit installed which was the only way we could sleep through the night.

This house had one bathroom. While I lived there, the one upstairs was never working. There was a small bedroom on the first floor next to the living room where a seminary student was living. He once gave me a book of poems by Robert Burns. He was a little bit of a misfit, as were all of us in ways probably. A lot of mornings when I'd wake up to get ready for work, I'd come into the kitchen and notice someone asleep on the couch. This happened a lot. The many former students of the professor knew that they always had a place to crash at any time. Whenever. Their door was open. If anyone on this earth "entertained angels unaware," it was this family.

Ginny, his wife, made evening meals for whoever was there. She was the expert at thinning the soup to accommodate unexpected guests. If one of the kids had made a dessert, she knew how to cut the pieces small enough that everyone had some. She could always squeeze in another person, no matter who it was or how late they arrived to dinner.

One night while I was living there, I ran into my sister's high school boyfriend while out with friends. He ended up coming with me to the house and joining the family for dinner and talking late into the night with Dr. Kenyon about philosophy, religion, the love of God that he at the time was seriously doubting. As they talked, Dr. Kenyon's daughter gently combed his hair and added colorful bows to every part. He looked beautiful. He left them in the rest of the night, most likely having forgotten about them.

My first summer there, my roommate and I found a cat at a retreat center about an hour away. Of course, we brought it home. The Kenyons were in Pennsylvania at the time, so after a few days, we called them to let them know. We had named the cat and grown pretty attached quickly. They said they'd decide what to do when they got back. They really wanted my friend to take him but it didn't work out. A couple years ago when I took Ted to their house to meet them, Wallace the cat was still there. Fat and happy. Dr. Kenyon still only called him "that cat."

The next summer I was there, my ride to work every day fell through, so they let me drive their 1970's blue hatchback Subaru around town. It was my first time really getting to know a stick shift, and I grew as attached to this car as I was to Wallace the cat. It was the quintessential clunker, but to this day, it still amazes me that this family let me use their car so often, especially when I was never even a student of Dr. Kenyon's.

I have so many wonderful memories of living two summers in this warm house. There was constant noise, the comings and goings of children, dogs, a cat, and the opening and shutting of those doors. Every morning, Ginny made her peanut butter toast and sat with whoever was around, talking. She's ask her "Winny" when he'd be home for dinner. They quietly made fun of the guy I was dating one summer, knowing we weren't a good match. They were the experts at squeezing as many people into a small space as possible.

Last week, Dr. Kenyon collapsed while working out at the college gym. This afternoon, they took him off life support. An hour ago, he left us for heaven. Everyone is in shock.

I was never his student. I never attended even one of his classes. Even so, his life changed mine. I saw the way he lived, the values his family lived out of welcoming anyone who came to their door, and I knew then that I wanted my own house to be the same. I am not as good as they were, not yet at least. I need to work on being more comfortable with mess and unfinished projects and noise and rowdiness, of children putting bows in my hair late at night and thinning the soup and loaning out freely my stuff. He was one of the most generous people I ever knew. Living with his family for two summers gave me the perfect example of how to live with an open heart to love God and love others, just the way Jesus told us we ought to do.

The halls of our college will be much quieter without his singular, loud "HA!" of a laugh, but the streets of heaven are now even so much more joyful with that sound filling it.

Dr. Kenyon, until we meet again, may we all live as well as you did. Thank you for living your years here so beautifully.


Danni and Tommy said...

beautiful Lori. Much love to you.

barefoot mom said...

Lori, this so beautiful and inspiring! I want my whole life to be this way! Thank you so much for sharing!

Semi-feral Mama said...

I want to be Dr. Kenyon. And I want someone who writes as beautifully as you to write about me - someday.

mama becca said...

everyone needs a Dr. Kenyon.
I'm so sorry for your loss, Lori, and for his family and community. I'm better just for having read this post. what a legacy he created.

Molly said...

I'm so sorry, Lori. What wonderful memories of this great man.

Anonymous said...

Having stayed at Wynn's a summer or two, and living with most of the rest of the Kenyon clan at one point or another, I can attest to the fact that they are ALL like this in their generosity and hospitality.

Wynn was an obedient servant of the living God. I Can think of no higher praise.

He will be sorely missed.

Kylie Wilcox said...

This is lovely -- thank you for posting this. I only took one class with Dr. Kenyon but he and Ginny touched so many lives on so many levels. I once slept on their couch! --Kylie Wilcox, Belhaven class of 2008

Lauren said...

What a beautiful tribute. His lessons are spread that much wider by your caring words.

R said...

I didn't realize you went to Belhaven. I found your blog quite some time ago when we first began our adoption journey and have been following along ever since. I had one class with Dr. Kenyon, and while I didn't know him personally, it was easy to see in just the short amount of time I spent in his class why he was so loved by so many people. What a beautiful post you have written in his memory!