I knew the Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church was slated to come down one of these days, but a shock went through me when my photographer friend Ted posted pictures of the demolition. I watched the walls tumble and with them memories came tumbling in, not in any sort of order, a stone here, a chunk of nostalgia there–like the building itself as it fell to earth.
When I was eight years old, I entered for the first time a space that seemed so large. I was a boarding student then, with my stomach never coming unknotted, hands and feet always cold–a stranger, intruder even, never feeling at home. A place so different from the embrace of the little clapboard chapel at Teec Nos Pos.
In the Rehoboth church we practiced for a musical that long, tall, old Miss Stob must have adapted for us from a 1930s score.
We marched over from the high school next door for chapel on Tuesdays and Thursdays, choir practice on the other three days.
I held hands there with my girlfriend under the protection of our skirts and choir robes.
I listened (or not) to the interminable prayer, the Congregational Prayer, the one that must last for the prescribed twenty minutes, the one you could measure by the clock if you stealthily opened your eyes.
I sang a duet, "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella," in chapel service with Irma Ahasteen, just before Christmas vacation.
There was our senior dramatic reading, "An Evening with Robert Frost." Unable ever to forget the lines from "The Death of the Hired Man:"
Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.
I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve.
Weddings: Ted and Evie, Ray and Marge, Sharon and Ken, Flo and Stu–Evie and Sharon were nurses I worked with in the old, old hospital, the one that fell years before the church. By happenstance I witnessed its demise. Ted and Ray and Marge, Flo and Stu, all students ahead of me in school. Seeming like royalty when they married.
Introducing the idea of theistic evolution in Young Peoples' Class in the church basement. Clueless about how radical that was.
The funeral of a first-grade girl when I taught at the mission. The minister saying her life was like a Navajo rug–complete, even though it was very small. Sitting in the pew with my third grade class, not knowing I should talk to them about what her death might mean to them. Still so young myself.
My girlfriend and I interrupting brass practice to decide whether to kiss on the lips. Going back to practicing, no first kiss in the Rehoboth Church, there where anyone might open the swinging doors at any moment.
Golden light, the smell of newly washed sage and earth, breezing in through open windows on a Sunday evening during monsoon season.
Being carried out the church doors on glorious waves of J.S. Bach.
Grabbed by the house parent, yelled at right after church because a Navajo boy and I dared to enter church and sit together at Sunday night service.
My first communion.
The communion I took when I feared I was losing it all.
My friend Louise delivering her mother's eulogy in the Diné language, not one single word of English. Feeling so proud of her.
A dream where I am leading the church service. A dream that will never come to pass. Not literally. Not now.
Some churches seem to hold in them the memories of all the silent and voiced requests lifted there to the Holy One. A palpable energy in those places that my young friend Ben named. "There's something in there," he said at three years old when we left St. Paul's Cathedral in San Francisco's Mission District. I never felt that at Rehoboth. There was an emptiness there for me. And yet, when I saw the image of the church falling, I felt it as one more loss. For more than sixty years, it had been a vessel for my memories.