It doesn’t matter if she’s in the middle of eating a treat or sniffing a very exciting blade of grass, as soon as they become audible, she sits at ready alert. There’s no distracting her or coaxing her along the sidewalk, the sirens freeze her as she cocks her head and furrows her furry brow, frozen until the last wail evaporates down the street.
Before my puppy signed on as my roommate, I heard the sirens all the time. I live a block away from a fire station, the jarring alarms shocking me before I protectively cover my ears or sigh in annoyance at the disturbance. I dutifully pull to the side of the road while driving, focusing on the minutes lost with growing anxiety about being late, or more likely, simply just the inconvenience of things not going exactly as planned. That’s what they had come to symbolize to me – snags in my routine, ear-piercing shocks that tip me off balance. I would huff at the missed light and mutter at the train of ambulances, police cars and fire trucks that often parade down my street.
It took my puppy’s mindfulness to remind me of the truth. Sirens are a call for help, icons of bravery imbued with peril and crisis. These ‘inconveniences’ save lives, staunch a flood, and extinguish flames of pain. The stamped words of ‘Emergency’ aren’t merely marketing tricks to allow running of red lights, but rather crucial expertise in soul protection.
How did I forget this? Why did it take my puppy’s meditative attention to remind me of my humanity? When did schedules and routines start to trump sustaining a life, reaching out a hand, walking back into the fire? I heard them so often that my only reaction was to wince over the noise and resume my tasks. I learned to turn away, close my heart, and edit out the final destination. I didn’t think about where the sirens were headed or who might be crying. I didn’t think about disasters and broken bones, hearts paused or breathing ceased. I caught my miniscule piece of the puzzle, and focused only on the sharp edges rather than how my shawl of safety was knit with millions of pieces snapped together to allow panic to exhale. I didn’t ponder with gratitude, or count my blessings that there is a number to call where help stands on alert. I didn’t list my loved ones and murmur a prayer of thanks for those that will risk for a stranger, rescue despite danger, and hold a stranger’s life in equal footing with their own. I didn’t even stop reading emails.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi suggests that whenever we hear the sound of a passing ambulance we offer a prayer that the ambulance arrives in time. Similarly, whenever fire trucks interrupt our sense of calm, we should pray to God that the trucks arrive in time to save the endangered people and home. We should also pray that no firefighter be injured. –The Jewish Book of Values, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
It’s easier to cover our ears and huff over the traffic. It’s easier to scowl at flashing lights and watch the irritation meter rise. It’s easier to blame the wailing for distractions and erase the images of what horror might away them. It’s easier to stay self-absorbed, cushioned from the pain and crisis that occurs on a 24-hour loop.
But the truth is, I am grateful for the noise. I let my puppy teach me about holiness, and sit at attention by her side, respectfully stopping mindless chores. I whisper soothing words, aimed not only at her wrinkled brow but also for the men and women experiencing a much bigger distraction right now. I pause to offer a prayer of hope and healing, both for those saving and those in need. I choose the quick heartache in acknowledging suffering over a hardened spirit looking out for number one. I catch myself irritably glancing at the clock while on the side of the road, and then I take a deep breath and thank G-d that I’m not the ambulance’s destination today.
I pause, allowing the sirens to jar me out of my rigid bubble, and take the time to be grateful, to send healing, to bolster courage, and to wish for happy endings.