Masked, Vaxxed+, and Into the Water

Two weeks post booster, I figure I’m as safe from Covid-19 as I’m going to be—at least until the next big discovery in the science lab. It’s not going away and anti-vaxxers are not suddenly going to grow a frontal lobe. It’s time to put a toe in the river. Not without a life jacket, of course, I choose my risks scrupulously, both on the trail (my version of water) and in this soon-to-be post-pandemic and to-be-continued endemic world. Yoga in the flesh is a risk I’m willing to take. Especially since every precaution is being taken to attend: masked, vaxxed, distanced.

It’s been some twenty months since Olympia’s Yoga Loft went online and several weeks later shut its physical doors permanently. Zoom yoga has its advantages. I don’t have to drive thirty miles. I can attend in pajamas. In the summer, I practiced on the deck with the birds. But I’ve missed it in person.

The instructors recently opened a cooperative in a new space. When I heard it was in the works, and saw the space they were renting, I knew I would go back in the water as soon as I could. It was a place with personal history.

Olympia Westminster Presbyterian Church, photo 1961

Some sixty-eight years ago, when my family lived in Olympia, I was baptized in the water (by which I mean sprinkled as an infant) at Westminster Presbyterian Church, a small brick building built in 1930 on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Lybarger Street. But let me back up.

Following the birth of my sister, five years before my arrival, my mother suffered from post-partum depression, a term I suspect was not used in 1947. “Take her to church,” Dr. Hunter told my father. Take her to the river. Spurious advice, but desperate I suppose, he did.

I don’t know why they chose the Presbyterian church. My father’s family had been Methodist, though I don’t think the men and boys attended. My mother had been Southern Baptist, though her family wasn’t churched. I do remember some years later when we got a new car and everyone had a different color choice (so the story went), green was the outcome. Apparently no one chose green. “Everyone will be equally dissatisfied!” my father declared. Maybe that’s how they chose the church.

Though I have driven by the Gothic Revival-style building many times in the years since my return to Washington, I have but a single visual of the interior in my memory bank. I was five. I was sitting (no doubt in a scratchy dress) in the pew with my father and sister craning my neck around to see my mother and baby sister over my right shoulder, in a room I firmly remember being called the “cry room.” The presumably sound proof room had rocking chairs and large windows looking into the sanctuary, the sound from the worship service no doubt piped into the room. I’m sure it was only mothers in there with small children, no fathers, but I digress.

When I heard the new Olympia Yoga Sanctuary would be housed in a historic church building on the corner of Fourth and Lybarger and did an internet search and confirmed it was “The Church,” I couldn’t wait to go.

In for a dime, in for a dollar. I not only returned to in-person yoga on Monday, I first went to Panera Bread for a Cinnamon Crunch bagel and writing time. None of my favorite regulars were there, sadly, it’s a different day of the week. Still, it was good to return to my weekly routine of so many years.

It’s been sixty-two years since we left Olympia and this first church home. And it’s been thirty years since the congregation moved to a new building and the old one eventually became an event center before it was recently sold again. I knew it would be transformed, but I was eager to see if my one memory (which for once was in line with my sister’s memory from her vantage point of a ten year old) could be confirmed.

It was not. I must say, I am mostly not a fan of shattered memories. But there was no way I twisted in the pew looking to the back over my right shoulder for my mother. The room had to have been to the left, a wall and hallway now obscuring wherever it was. Nothing about the space triggered an “I have been here before” memory, so I will rely only on the knowledge that I had been.

There were just seven yogis present plus the teacher, along with a few that joined online. Only one was familiar. Elizabeth has been my teacher through the pandemic, but back in the old days I attended Kristi’s classes. I shared a lovely long hug from her before class and nearly wept. Twenty months. (Her class times don’t fit my schedule, and I’ve come to love Elizabeth too. The only thing dependable is change.)

Maybe what I missed most on Zoom Yoga was the Om—”the primordial sound of the universe.” It acknowledges our connection to everything. Online, I suppose due to the limitations of the microphone, Elizabeth’s voice cut out after the first couple seconds, and there was only mine. In the echoing sanctuary our voices harmonized, the sound vibrating in my chest. The tears did fall then. Connected again.

“Take me to the river and put my feet back on the ground.”

Give your day a lift and hear and watch the late great Eva Cassidy sing "Take Me to the River" at Blues Alley. Listen here.   

14 thoughts on “Masked, Vaxxed+, and Into the Water

  1. Great story. I love that memory game. Though I hate the corrections, and am more comfortable with the familiar shape of the old memory, like a comfy slipper. But what about your mother? Did the church river help? Or something else?

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    1. I have no idea if it helped! But they kept attending. My mother probably had life long undiagnosed, untreated depression. Well, it may have been diagnosed, but untreated, by medication or counseling (other than one spectacular failure). She was of the belief that depression was something you treated yourself by just pulling yourself up and out of it. Except she was unable to, of course. There is a story in my upcoming memoir about trying to medically treat it late in her life.

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    1. You’ll know when. It will happen. Mine was in a huge room, high ceilings, and with low attendance. With masks and proof of vax, it felt okay. But I get it. I’m anxious in the grocery store! It’s more than that though. I’ve gotten used to staying isolated, and I don’t mind it. In fact, I kind of miss the expectation of it. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

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  2. I love this. A great story AND new music. Thank you for both. I’m happy that you’re safely and slowly emerging from that Covid bubble. I think it will happen like that for most of us … wading in and not recklessly taking a wild cannonball leap into a full pool. What a beautiful place, too. Wowza !

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  3. i enjoyed this. Especially the special link to Eva Cassidy. Years ago, after a long arduous week at work, i forwarded her song, “Over the Rainbow” to my work colleagues. We were all blessed by her rendition. By the way, have you heard Annie Lennox’s version of “Take Me to the River”? It’s on her Medusa album.

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  4. Filling in the memory gap: They chose that church because of the preaching. I never asked what they liked about it, but am guessing that it was intellectual and thus appealed to our father. Many many years later I spotted an obituary in a Presbyterian magazine for a professor emeritus at Pittsburgh Seminary, who had been the pastor at Westminster Olympia in the time frame of my baptism. I asked Mother if the name was familiar, and she said it was the same person. So if he went on to be a professor, I’m guessing the sermons were highly intellectual. And what’s up with the cry room on the left?! No way! It had to be over our right shoulders! Wow. Memory is such a cheat sometimes. But all in all, what a wonderful closing of the circle!

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    1. Aw, I liked my theory. The truth is much more plausible. It is full circle, isn’t it? For about a nano-second, I thought about checking out the congregation (welcoming & affirming, female pastor)—until I saw the reference to “praise music.” Nope, not my thing.

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