Um! Yah! Yah!

I did something new last Sunday: I shouted in church.Alum! Yah! Yah!

No, I wasn’t slain in the spirit or anything like that—we’re Washington State Presbyterians (and grew up as Minnesota Lutherans). Sure, now and then someone will punctuate a point in the sermon with an “Amen!,” and a couple of women sometimes sing with their hands lifted high, but our senior pastor likes to joke that our congregation’s character would best be described as “the frozen chosen.”

Still, there was this moment on Sunday when the whole sanctuary was quiet, the associate pastor was taking a breath, and I yelled.

I can’t believe it now either, but I couldn’t help myself. You see, in the moments before I hollered, before the pastor took that breath, he had made a comment that someone near the back—me—had just pumped her fists in the air.

That’s right. Not only did I shout in church, but I had done a happy dance with my arms.

And when he commented on my quiet cheer, he added how characteristically Midwestern it was to exhibit such great enthusiasm in total silence. That must have been what got me. I know Midwestern natives are capable of speaking up, and part of me was dying to say something. That’s when I erupted.

“Um! Yah! Yah!” I shouted.

I imagine 99 percent of the several hundred people present thought I was having a fit.

It was celebration Sunday for our church’s high school seniors, and a lineup of graduates had been announcing where they were headed in the fall. University of Portland … Washington State University … University of Washington. American University—in Washington (District of Columbia) … Wheaton (another W name). Great, great, great, I thought. Happy for everybody. Applause all around.

Then, the last student shared her destination. “I’m going to St. Olaf College in freezing-cold Minnesota.”

I couldn’t help but pump my fists. She was headed to my alma mater! St. Olaf, that Lutheran college on the southern Minnesota prairie. St. Olaf, a place that had pointed me toward paths I continue to walk today: my writing (never mind that I was a biology major), my parenting (an India abroad program partially inspired our adoption), my friendships.

The thing is, out here in Washington State, St. Olaf seems like a fictional place. “You went where? St. Olaf’s?” “Oh, that place I hear Garrison Keillor talk about on the radio!” “Didn’t Betty White live there?” Some days my time at St. Olaf seems so long ago and far away that it feels unreal even to me.

But I remember the limestone buildings on a hill overlooking the surrounding farmland. I remember dissecting starfish and discovering Carson McCullers. I remember playing snow football in the north woods and floating on the Bay of Bengal. I remember the music, so much music, performing and listening. I remember crowding into the deafening dance club. And yes, I remember the freezing cold wind.

Now twice the age I was when I graduated, the four years I spent there feel like a blip in my history. But the jolt and the joy I felt last Sunday when this future Ole announced her fall plans showed me how even a blip can set in motion decades of connections and journeys.

It also caused me to realize that these blips occur not only when we are young. We are each in the midst (maybe the beginning, maybe the end) of all kinds of blips—parenting, employment, unemployment, creating, healing, friendship-making—and it is only in hindsight that we see what they meant to our lives.

Celebration Sunday was a reminder that at every age it is important to live fully into each day, into each blip, into each role laid before us. When I double my age again, I will be in my eighties, and where I will be will depend in part on what I make of this very day.

Godspeed, future Ole. Godspeed, future everybody!

And now, for inspiration, I invite you to listen to a rousing rendition of the St. Olaf fight song—Um! Yah! Yah! (Click and then scroll down to the bottom of the page where it says “Sing Along.”)


4 thoughts on “Um! Yah! Yah!

  1. Love it Sarah! Brought me right back to campus and all the wonderful experiences and opportunities we had as students. I love it that you shouted Um Yah Yah….I do the same thing. 🙂 Ole pride!

  2. I applaud your Um Ya Ya and envy your courage! Just this weekend while a delegate to our synod assembly far away from Minnesota country, I sat to eat lunch at a table of strangers. During our conversation two of us discovered we were St. Olaf alums, possibly the only two there! We Um Ya Ya’d on the spot. Then, during the assembly recognition of clergy ordination anniversaries, my new Ole acquaintance was called to the front for his. Surprised, I was tempted to shout Um Ya Ya, but alas, there had been no other affirmations of college loyalty and I thought about it too long and missed the moment! Next time!!!

    1. Pat, thank you for reading and for your comment! Oles do turn up in the most surprising places. I imagine you’ll have another opportunity to shout out an Um Yah Yah before long. Best wishes!

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