Bass Mitchell: For whom the sirens sound

Bass Mitchell

I heard the sirens today … like every day … and I thought of James … and I prayed…

For 10 years we had lived in a rural part of Virginia. Having moved to Charlottesville and then to Northern Virginia, there were many adjustments to make. One of the greatest was the sound of sirens. It seems every time I step outside, no matter the time of day or night, I hear the blasting of sirens from fire trucks, rescue vehicles, or police cars.

I have still not adjusted to this. Every day seems like one of those shows on TV like ER or any cop show in which sirens are constantly in the background. But that’s TV. That’s sound effects. When I hear them here, I know they are real. When you hear them live, you know someone is in need, perhaps desperate need.

So, whenever I hear a siren, I rouse myself from whatever I am doing and ponder in varying degrees of panic, “I wonder what’s happening? I wonder if it’s someone I know? I wonder if it’s someone most near and dear to me? I wonder…”

Imagine this happening throughout the day and you see that it could be quite a problem or at least a real distraction.

I recall one Sunday morning during worship. My friend James was one of our ministers. Just as he sat down to share a talk with the children, a siren sounded in the distance and slowly grew louder and louder until it passed right by the church. James paused. He had to, really, for no one could hear him. I still recall the expression on his face – not panic at having his well-planned talk interrupted, but a sense that this had awakened some memory from long ago.

As the siren faded in the distance, James looked at the children and then set aside what he had planned to share. Instead, from his childhood, he told a story of how every time he was out with his parents and they heard a siren, they would explain what it meant and that someone needed a prayer. So, they would pray each time for those for whom the sirens sounded. Then, that day, James led the children and everyone in a prayer for those for whom that siren had just sounded.

This is obviously something I have never forgotten and that I still practice. For, you see, the only thing worse than hearing the sound of sirens is getting so accustomed to them that I cease to hear them at all, that I merely accept them as the sound effects of city life. For the sirens sound each time for those who are near and dear to me – even if I have never met them. This place is my home. Each person is a sister, a brother, a mother, father, friend or child.

The sirens, you see, always sound for me in some way when they sound for you, any of you. And not just here in this place, but anywhere in the world. The sirens are a call to us to pray for those at the receiving end of them. They are calls to pray for those rushing to the scenes to give aid, for whom the sirens and flashing lights are constant companions. The siren sound is a voice crying out to those in need, “You are not alone in this world. Help is on the way.” Each siren is a call to care. It’s a challenge to so live, drive, work, speak and play that fewer and fewer sirens need to sound.

So, I heard the sirens today … like every day … and I thought of James … I thought of what he taught me … and I prayed … I thought again of how desperately I wish I had heard the sirens that must have been sounding inside of him. But I could not hear them. There was no flashing light, no alarm, no sign that something was very wrong, though there must have been sirens that he somehow managed to muffle. He kept the sirens silent. For, you see, James a year later went into his basement and took his life.

I heard the sirens today … like every day … I thought of James … and I prayed for him.

And I keep praying…

that always my ears will be open to them, that my ears would be sensitive, so alert I can hear even the silent sirens…

that my heart will be tender, so that I am forever touched by those for whom the sirens sound…

that I will keep my hands ever ready to reach out to them, to embrace and comfort them as my own beloved ones…

I heard the sirens today … like every day … I thought of James … I thought of you … and I prayed … for I no longer wonder for whom the sirens sound … they always sound for me…

Bass Mitchell is a writer and United Methodist minister living in New Market. Email him at pastor.bass@gmail.com