The Eighth of March

Every Year

March eighth would have been my dad’s 82nd birthday. I think about him sometimes on my lonely drives between Tucson and Phoenix. I think about how I could play his favorite music for him, and use Pandora or Spotify to find music he’d never heard but would probably like.

We could listen to podcasts together. He’d especially like 99% Invisible, which is about architecture and design. I’m sure my dad, the master architect, would like the episode about the efforts to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. First, they have to raise street level — which they do by jacking up all the skyscrapers in Chicago by ten feet. Dad laughs.

Today is a confluence of coincidences. I listened to the conclusion of a 99pi story about the Sanctuary movement in America, centered in Tucson. Violence in Central America drove thousands of refugees north to seek asylum in the U.S. during the 1980s. Many crossed the border illegally from Mexico, and some of those were assisted by churches who believed that it was their duty to shelter the refugees and offer sanctuary. This movement was led by Reverend John Fife of the Southside Presbyterian Church.

I was working in Tucson this week while this podcast described the events that happened there decades ago. It’s weird to listen to a story about Southside Presbyterian Church and know I could just drive by there on my lunch break. When Rev. Fife talks about refugees hiding in the house across the street, I could easily find that house. Again, this is weird to me.

The Sanctuary episodes (1, 2) are a bit of a departure for 99pi, a show about “the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.”* I’m guessing that the staff of 99pi are using their voices to talk about something very important to them. Not really going off-script — more like broadening the mission. The immigration issues of today are echoes of another time, when good hearted people defied the law because they perceived a moral obligation.

The two Sanctuary episodes are titled “Church” and “State” — two things my dad valued very highly.

When I think about my dad, I conjure descriptions using words of love, kindness, and quiet strength. If I’ve taken anything from my dad, I hope to have his will to seek out the right way, without claiming a moralistic superiority. To find the right path for myself, and to walk it right down the middle.

I’m sure I’ve constructed an idealized image of my dad, who passed away more than ten years ago. I’ve drawn a picture from memory, and I’m sure I’ve remembered the parts I want to believe. I don’t know how he stood on the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s. I don’t remember anything about those events as they happened. I wish I could talk to him about how he would choose between upholding the law and comforting the desperate.

Although my dad wasn’t a hard core conservative, or maybe not a conservative at all, he always seemed to vote Republican for President. I’m certain that this time, maybe for the first time ever, he would have voted another way.