Around 1959, Grandfather Lancaster shuffled me through the door of my first YMCA in Yakima, Washington. I floundered in their swimming pool for Grampa Paul, demonstrating half-learned strokes from Red Cross swimming class. After I had mostly drowned myself, Paul towed me to the locker room. We stripped off our trunks. He handed me a white towel scented with bleach. A foggy door swung open. I sat on the steam room tile bench, my rag draped to obscure what needed hiding. I listened to the naked sun-wizened fruit men of Yakima valley: Selah cherry farmers, Wapato barons of red delicious, Moxee lords of peach and plum. My grandfather regaled the fortunes of Yakima Fruit and Cold Storage, of which he owned a part. The orchard burghers spoke of dogs (grandfather loved his Airedales) and liquor (of which Grandpa Paul was fond to a fault) and Yakima. Protruding paunches jiggled in mirth. Sagging jowls frowned at hated taxes and scurrilous scandals. In this senate of sweat, a bond was built, a promise offered. Bits of Yakima emerged from rivulets of perspiration rolling down hairy backs, as steam boiled off stainless pipes. Those conversations proved prophetic. Alan Kay (American, 20th century A.D.) noted, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
More than two thousand years ago, Roman patricians spent afternoons at swimming pools, which they called baths. There, the Roman elite conversed, read, gossiped, exercised, massaged, philosophized, and (oh, yes) washed. The Imperium maintained communal baths for purposes far beyond diversion and a brisk scrub. Romans struck deals, vetted candidates, built muscles, debated wars, and nurtured friendships. Rome was invented in baths. Baths housed libraries and lecture halls. Time ravaged Rome, but baths, a great community-building idea, endured. Britain restated Rome’s baths (and the Greek gymnasium), baptizing them to different values In 1844, Britons formed the Young Men’s Christian Association. The YMCA built its reputation on swimming pools, steam rooms, and civic purposes. The Y inculcated values Christian in origin, though the organization came to emphasize service over evangelism. Character development became the Y’s watchword: caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility. Ys build healthy spirits, minds, and bodies for all, so their saying goes.
In the late 1970s, I played basketball as often as studies permitted at Pasadena’s YMCA. My parochialism got buffeted. Men of every color, culture, and character pulled on sneakers to jump, shoot, foul. Diversity annoyed me—unfamiliar lingos, impenetrable accents, reprehensible values. But years passed; differences found context. Mutual respect frayed xenophobia, as we learned one another’s game, as we made ourselves teams.
In the mid-1980s, I joined Shoreline’s YMCA. Old guys played gentleman’s basketball on the short court: play stopped when roundballers fell; cursing was tolerated, but discouraged. I heard that familiar YMCA song. The grunting of hard exercise. Chatter of common concerns. Back-slapping, laughter, and warm handshakes. Networking and decision making, dreams floated and plans hatched. Shoreline’s YMCA flaunts a jewel, its front desk traffic cop, Cheryl Medin. She juggles phones and front door like a Ringling Brothers act. Cheryl greets governors and homeless people with equal courtesy and aplomb. Through decades, Shoreline YMCA’s excellent string of directors has tended a mission that issued from Jesus of Nazareth, though none preaches a gospel of words. Shoreline YMCA serves. It takes two incomes to rent in Shoreline, so the Y provides subsidized daycare. Some teens appear lost; the Y offers places and guidance. The Y’s doors open to all. And, of course, the Y proffers baths, sweating, education, and a deluge of good faith.
Shoreline has outgrown its YMCA building. The Y erects a new, more appropriately-sized, facility at Echo Lake. The new Y has a pool (a bath, if you will). Join the Y; contribute to its capital campaign. Come splash in the bath. Converse. Predict Shoreline’s future by inventing it. Imagine Shoreline.