By Naomi Saslaw
What is the role of learning in the life of an individual? For Evelyn Palik, reading and lifelong learning are a significant part of her identity.
Evelyn and her husband, Emil, chose to retire to Ashland, because Ashland College could satisfy their passion for lifelong learning and growth. They soon became deeply involved in courses in Philosophy, such as Doug Chismar's class in Empathy and his Oriental Philosophy. Evelyn was challenged by Russell Weaver's course on the Russian novel and very deeply involved in the discussions in Naomi Saslaw's Readings in Jewish Literature. Each course they audited provided seeds for further exploration.
Evelyn became fascinated by philosophical and theological questions about Judaism. She became particularly interested in Rabbi Harold Kushner's books, starting with When Bad Things Happen to Good People and his many other books including When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters. Rabbi Kushner taught Evelyn how to deal with suffering in her life, including the death of her first baby. Evelyn met Rabbi Kushner at Fairmount Temple in Cleveland when he was struggling with his own pain after the death of his son. Evelyn learned that if she shares her pain with another person, she can more easily deal with her problems, rather than keeping the pain locked inside. At the age of 85, Evelyn now has no fear because of what she has learned from Rabbi Kushner. Although Rabbi Kushner is Jewish, Evelyn believes that her understanding of Christianity has also deepened because of her reading Kushner's books.
Evelyn reads daily. When I asked her why she loves to read, she first quoted from a Korean film: "Reading is an heirloom that waves to all mankind." Reading also allows her to keep researching new ideas. She also believes that reading "takes her into a bit of heaven," that "reading is as much a part of me as breathing," and that reading has helped her to become a more understanding person. She then added that she is reading because "I am preserving my brain to go to medical school." Evelyn has donated her body to Case Western Reserve University Medical School, and her husband, Emil, has already completed the same donation.
Recently Evelyn has become immensely interested in Korean films. She is fascinated by the art of Korean film and by studying the different culture of Korea. One film that combines her love of classical music and Korean film depicts the conductor of a Korean orchestra. The actor who played the conductor totally immersed himself in the art of conducting and gives an incredible performance.
When I asked Evelyn what advice she would give to college students, she stated that they should find their passion, to see what makes them alive and speaks to their heart and then they should learn about that field. She also advises young people to be a keen observer of and listener to other people.
Evelyn also believes that "if there is no laughter in Heaven, I don't want to go there." She lives her life continuously learning and growing, avidly reading, with a love for people, with a passion for classical music, and with healthy, renewing laughter.