I’ve been telling this story a lot lately, encouraging people to notice God’s invitations to prayer this Lent. I hope it will appear in my next book, Finding God Abiding. Here’s a sneak peek at the first draft!
“There’s no reason for them to blow that siren anymore,” my neighbor insisted. “Everyone has pagers now.”
The volunteer fire station is less than 100 yards from our bedroom windows. At all times of the day and night, its powerful siren cranks up to a sustained, nerve-jangling pitch. It wakes babies, sets dogs howling, and generally shatters the peace. Why should we put up with this blasted racket, he went on, when there was a non-disruptive alternative? Would I join him at the upcoming township meeting to help make his case?
I should mention that this was not just any neighbor, but the one we called “The Mayor of the Block.” Retired yet busy, The Mayor kept tabs on everyone. He was also incredibly helpful. The morning after any winter storm, there he would be, using his snow blower to clear the sidewalk on both sides of the block, and once—in the cold, without gloves—he took a saw to a tree that had fallen across our driveway, so I could get to work. He was full of generous energy—a person on whom I had come to rely. Now, he was asking me for something. And I was going to have to refuse.
It’s funny, the things that push us to take a stand. Despite being in The Mayor’s debt . . . despite his civic-mindedness and genuine concern for the jangled nerves and wakened babies of our block . . . there was no way I could oppose the fire siren. I couldn’t even give the sort of non-committal response that would allow him to think that I agreed, but—alas—just couldn’t make the meeting.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t. My mother always told me that, when I hear a siren, it means someone is in trouble, and someone is going to help, and since neither of those people is me, the least I can do is stop and pray for them.” To this, The Mayor of the Block had no response (though he may have added “religious nut” to his mental file on me).
“Teach us to pray,” the disciples implored Jesus. Although my siren-prompted Hail Marys are not profound prayers, they are part of my prayer life—my ongoing conversation with God. It’s the spiritual equivalent of spotting something funny and texting my brother a photo of it; that’s far from the whole of our communion, but it is a shared connection, briefly drawing us together in the midst of our separate busyness.
Each day contains countless opportunities to raise our minds and hearts to God, especially once we decide to notice a thing: the whistle of a train or the roar of an airplane; the sight of a cardinal or the sound of a woodpecker; a rainbow in the sky or one at our feet in sidewalk chalk. Anything that invites us to pause can be as sacred as a cathedral door.
“Pray for me!” we often say in times of trouble. I like to think of the fire siren as just that—our first responders’ dashed-off plea as they race to someone’s assistance. I’m glad the siren continues to disrupt my peace, so I can pray for theirs. Perhaps my fellow neighbors are doing just that—encircling those brave first responders in prayers for their protection, despite our occasional grumbles about the noise.