Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving, Service, & a BYU Professor

OK, so you know how when things happen over and over again and you call it coincidence.  Well, it's happened to me lately.  A certain few words/ideas have come up in conversation, reading, the internet, whatever recently.  And these same ideas keep popping into my head.  So, if it's coincidence or a tender mercy or whatever, these same thoughts keep entering my mind, so in order to keep from going insane, I suppose I will write about it for the sake of my sanity.  or for fun.  whichever.
Remember the Halloween party that I co-hosted a few weeks ago?  (well, kind of co-hosted.  It wasn't at my house so I certainly had less work to do. so more like 30/70, but whatever).  Well, I was talking with the other co-host a few days after the event.  I mentioned how much fun the party was and that I was glad that we did it regardless of the hard work.  We talked about how it's hard to do things like that when you worry about who to invite, will they have fun, will it be worthwhile, will everyone come, will no one come, etc. Well, after talking about it for a minute, Amara said something that struck me and I can't get it out of my  head.  She said, "I consider it a service when I do things like this."  And I thought to myself, "what a great way for someone to share her talents with other people by hosting dinners, parties, and other get-togethers."
It made me think immediately of another time when I was invited to a dinner.  This time the dinner was hosted by one of my English Professors at BYU.  It was my last semester at BYU.  I was taking Shakespeare (which I had put off until my last semester because of my loathe of Shakespeare, but I needed the class to graduate).  I chose the Honors class which met on Wednesday evenings not because of the professor or the fact that it was an honors class, but simply because there was a cute boy that I knew was taking the class.  (and his name was not Rick)  The professor was Eugene England.

He was a little on the fringes in that he often wrote and spoke about some controversial issues.  His subjects often included his beliefs, peace, poverty, race, gender, academic freedom and community.  He co-founded Dialogue, the first independent Mormon scholarly journal.  He was born in Idaho.  He served a mission with his wife, Charlotte Hawkins England, to Samoa just a year after they were married.  He studied meteorology at MIT, served in the Air Force, and he was a bishop.  He was hired as associate professor of English literature at BYU in 1977.

When November rolled around, Professor England told us that we wouldn't have class on Wednesday evening as usual--we would be meeting at his home.  He lived by the MTC.  It would be a Thanksgiving dinner.  Everyone in the class was invited.  So were our roommates.  Our neighbors.  Anyone that didn't have a place to go for Thanksgiving--or at least the night before Thanksgiving.
A quote from an online biography reads...As they had done since their mission among the open-hearted, generous Samoan people, Eugene and Charlotte continually opened their Provo home to friends, colleagues, and strangers, hosting numerous dinner discussions, writing and study groups, concerts, receptions and gatherings.
It was one of the most meaningful experiences that I had during my five and half years at BYU.  We didn't talk Shakespeare or English literature or even BYU stuff.  Professor England and his wife talked with us and served us food as if we were longtime friends.  I still tear up when I think of how that evening made me feel.  I was touched that such a busy and important person with 6 children (and grandchildren) of his own would dedicate that important evening to so many people that he barely knew.  It reminds me of this quote:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)

I have retained a few random bits of information that I learned throughout my college experience such as how to diagram a sentence and that Easter is always the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  But some of the most important things that I learned while at BYU were not facts but feelings and experiences like my dinner at the England home.
Another reason that I know that this is really the kind of person that Eugene England was because in 1997, shortly after Summer was born I took another class from Eugene England.  I had been so sick when I was pregnant and I just needed something to do for a change.  So, I signed up for a non credit evening class at UVSC.   I chose a class that was taught by a previous BYU Professor--Eugene England.   The class was Mormon Writers and it met on Wednesday Evenings.  I signed up after the semester had already began, but before the first class started.  Professor England noticed that I had signed up late.  He called me and asked me to stop by his office during office hours and pick up the reading list so that I could be prepared for the first day of class.  I told him that I wasn't currently a UVSC student and that I was working during his office hours.  He asked me where I worked and he delivered the class outline, syllabus, and reading list to me later that day.  I still find that hard to believe.

In 1998, Eugene England retired from BYU and was hired as Writer-in-Residence at UVSC.  However, in 2000 Eugene began to show signs of depressions and fatigue.  He had emergency surgery in 2001 and was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He died several months later at his home on August 17, 2001.
I often thought back of that Thanksgiving dinner at the England home, but it was after my dad died that I thought about it in a different way.  When my dad died, we heard from dozens and dozens of people that my dad had influenced over the years.  Some people called.  Some people wrote letters or emails telling of little things that my dad had done that had made a difference in theirs lives.  I realized that I needed to write to Sister England and let me know that she and her husband were doing good things and had impacted my life.  My only regret was that I hadn't done that before Professor England had died.  But, it was not too late to let Sister England know these things.

Some of my favorite essays of Eugene England are Why the Church is As True As the Gospel and Blessing the chevrolet.  Others can be found here.

So, because of this Thanksgiving season, friends co-hosting parties, this idea of service, I am recording my thoughts here for others to read.  Thanks to the Englands for their hospitality so many years ago and thanks to Amara for reminding me of the importance of sharing your home, food, and talents with those around you.  It means a lot and you are good examples to me.


Leslie said...

What an awesome blog post, Kelli. I loved it! Thank you for writing it

Carroll Family said...

Wow - how neat!

Amara said...

Thank you! We all need examples like that in our lives. I can't believe he delivered that stuff to you either---noone would ever know about what was a truly charitable act. Also the mission thing when they were so young. Don't you wonder if there is a different celestial kingdom for people like that?