Updated on April 6, 2015
Silence, Spirituality, and Sensation
We all had our favorite classes and professors in college. For many of my engineering friends, it was an Asian man whose last name was unpronounceable and in-class illustrations ranged from potatoes to terrorists.
I had a lot of professors who I loved. The English department went through some staff changes during my time at school; I choose to believe that this means I had the opportunity to learn from more great minds than some of my peers. But, still, we can’t help gravitating towards certain people–and they become our favorites. Mine were Doctors Paul and Shirley Kilpatrick.
Dr. Shirley Kilpatrick taught the first course that I attended at Geneva College. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do with her at first. She swept into the room–thin, with short, spiky grey hair–an ethereal air clinging to her, and told us to rearrange the desks into a circle. She wore a black blazer and pencil skirt, and open-toed black pumps. The teal brooch on her lapel matched her earrings… and her tights.
I quickly found that this was the least eccentric selection her wardrobe had to offer: the next class, she wore an outfit that was entirely canary yellow, except for her t-strap pumps, which were pink. Dr. Shirley Kilpatrick always dresses to impress, to say the least.
She asked us to write prayer requests or things that were troubling us on the back of our first quiz. Within days, each of us had received a slip of paper with a handwritten prayer in our mailbox. It was then that I knew I could trust this woman with anything.
I went on to take as many classes with her as I could, including a not-for-credit independent study about prayer and fasting. She showed me some of the greatest books that I’ve ever read. And, to top it off, she even gave my husband and I some unofficial counseling before we got married. I am honored to call Dr. Shirley Kilpatrick my teacher, mentor, and (in some capacity) friend.
I had a night class with Dr. Paul Kilpatrick my second semester of college. He was as unlike his wife as the moon is from the sun–and yet we need both to keep the world spinning. Where she vacations to Wales or England, he prefers the Caribbean or anywhere with a beach.
Dr. Paul Kilpatrick wears a three piece suit to the first day of every class he teaches. He has a well-constructed reasoning behind it, but the short version is that he recognizes the weight of first impressions and connotations. (Dr. Paul Kilpatrick is a linguist, you see.) He’s high energy, quick witted, completely brilliant, and one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever known. He would never give a test if the administration would allow it, believing that true learning is more than the regurgitation of facts. He has, on more than one occasion, canceled finals entirely.
I could spend all day talking about the Kilpatricks, telling stories and regaling you with my favorite quotes, but I would never get to why I wanted to talk to them in the first place.
Anybody can teach information or lead a discussion on a book that everyone has (theoretically) read. Lesson plans that prepare students for a test are a fact of life. It’s more than effort and preparation that allow a professor to connect with a room full of students on a personal level. The Kilpatricks have done so much more than that: they’ve taught me the value of experience.
Mrs. Dr. K. showed me the value of silence. Being able to sit, alone, without any distractions–and not wanting to kill yourself–is a valuable life skill. She posed it this way:
Without technology, music, and books, what’s left of you? Is there enough in yourself to keep you from going insane? Do you find yourself interesting? Is your relationship with God strong enough that you can connect with Him in the quiet?
To that end, she taught me that my relationship with God is more than an invisible conversation in my head–and so is prayer. Mundane, everyday routines can contribute to my ability to experience God’s grace. And I can’t even begin to tell you everything else she taught me about the spiritual disciplines.
Mr. Dr. K. taught me that certain things ought to be experienced, not just read about. He advocates travel, and has been known to take students to museums and events that let them experience other cultures. My senior year, he took my Non-Western Literature class to Pittsburgh for Ethiopian food. We had the restaurant to ourselves, and the owner came out and taught us to dance like they did where he was from. He hugged us all goodbye and called us his family.
While we’re at it–Mr. Dr. K. loves to dance. He took a class period to teach us to merengue–and, in Cinema, encouraged us to dance at the end of Strictly Ballroom. He sparked my (thus far unpursued) interest in the psychology of dancing cultures, especially in Latin American countries. I count dancing with him as a highlight of taking his classes.
I suppose all that’s left is to say thank you. Thank you, Drs. Paul and Shirley Kilpatrick, for everything you taught me, everything you showed me; for being generous with your time, energy, and patience; and for getting to know me as a person, not just a student. I owe you both so much, and I miss you terribly. Can we have a BFC&T date next time I’m in town?