My father’s birthday was the first day of spring. He died a month after his ninety-second birthday; he would have been ninety-four this year. Grief is a funny thing: it comes up and whacks you on the side of your head when you’re not paying attention. I wasn’t paying attention to when my father’s birthday was — I always forget people’s birthday’s (Carol can tell you how bad I am). On March 20, I awakened from a troubling dream: we had been in my parents’ old house, the one my father sold after my mother died and which got knocked down so some developer could build a McMansion; but in the dream the house was still there.
When I awakened, all that was left of the dream was confused images: of my parents, and my mother had not yet begun to sink into dementia; of some room in that house which I could not identify; of a fire which burned up all my clothes; of water pouring into the house. Two powerful, unconnected memories were bound up in this dream: the house fire that my parents and my younger sister lived through in 1993, and me showing up in time to see the Fire Department throwing soaked and charred personal items out of a hole chopped in the roof; and the time when I went to Star Island for a conference and they lost my luggage for a week, luggage which contained every piece of summer clothing I owned and my income was so low that it would have been a struggle to replace those clothes. I have no idea why these two memories came together; but my dreams rarely have any real meaning, so I tried to forget the dream. Then the next morning, on March 21, I awakened in the grips of another strange dream, about which I remember even less: back in my parents old house; I discovered a baby robin, nearly fully fledged but still unable to fly, in the bathroom, and I let it out; my sisters doing something or other; a gray spring day. This dream put me in a strange mood all day. I went to visit a friend who’s recovering from surgery. I weeded the garden, though it didn’t need it. I spent several hours working, answering email and preparing for Sunday.
Then a friend sent an email reminder: he’s the choir director at Burton High School in San Francisco, and his choir was having their annual concert and fundraising dinner. Carol and I decided to go. Since it was San Francisco, there was just about every racial and ethnic group you could imagine. There were about fifty choristers, and they looked affectionately and trustingly at their director as he led them in a short concert that encompassed everything from rap to pop to folk to Mozart. The choir was quite good: enunciation, intonation, dynamics were all quite good. The sopranos maybe struggled a little at one point, but they really opened up on the Mozart. There weren’t many basses and tenors — it’s hard for boys to join choirs — but they held up their parts amazingly well. And when we got home, and went for a walk in the light rain, the lingering effects of those dreams had entirely gone.