Friday, January 15, 2010

Opera Lady

We moved to San Francisco when I was almost two. My parents had both graduated from BYU a few years before and had been living in upstate New York. My dad worked as a chemical engineer for IBM but soon realized he didn't like the uncertainty and politics of Corporate America. I've wondered at the courage and faith it must have taken my parents to sell their snug house, pack their lives into a moving van, and move back across the country so my dad could go back to school. They traded their house with a spacious, green, forested backyard for a tiny, balcony-less apartment in congested, downtown San Francisco, their beautiful four seasons and at times sub-zero weather for a daily forecast of 60 degree temperatures, chilly wind, and steel grey skies.

I'm sure it was an adventure, filled with flamboyant characters and public transportation. And San Francisco is a beautiful place: it's just different. I have some memories of living there, but one of my favorite things is to hear my parents tell what they remember, effectively adding depth to my youthful, one-dimensional recollections.

I love hearing my mom talk about Opera Lady. There isn't much to tell, really. Every weekday evening around 6:00, Opera Lady would walk past our small apartment on Bush street, belting song after song at the top of her capable lungs. She was really quite good, mom said; she had a strong, professional-caliber voice. Sometimes my mom would look out the window when she heard her coming. Opera Lady was always dressed in business attire, apparently on her way home from some corporate job. She had a large voice, bold and true. I'm sure she elicited stares everywhere she went, but she didn't seem to mind.

In the subsequent years, my parents and I have mused about this woman, attempting to fill in some of the blanks of her story. She presumably lived in an apartment; there wasn't much else available for working class folk. Perhaps she had practiced singing at home but received complaints from the neighbors? Did she try to give up singing for awhile only to discover that life was colorless without it? Not having a car, perhaps the only place for her to go was outside. Was she nervous the first time started singing, strolling down the sidewalk in a pack of people? Did the stares bother her? Was she hoping to quit her job to pursue the dream of music?

I find this woman fascinating, and I find myself wishing I could be a little more like her. Not in a walk-around-my-complex-belting-out-show-tunes kind of way, but in a more uninhibited, less concerned about the critical glances of others, more secure and confident kind of way. I wish I were were so dedicated to my passions that I didn't let fear or laziness dictate my lack of action.

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- Marianne Williamson


  1. Did I ever tell you that I spoke to her once? I told her that I loved it when she sang, and thanked her for doing it.
    The truly funny thing was seeing people's expressions when they saw her. In a city where anything goes, and unusual behavior is very common, people were incredulous when they saw this very normal-looking young woman sing her heart out on the way home from work.