I live in a house on the corner of two moderately busy streets. The daytime soundscape includes whirring of buses along cables, car tires cutting through the rain, and the occasional clamor of pedestrians on the sidewalk. The noises of the day go mostly unnoticed, standing as a backdrop for the activity of the day to play upon. But, at night this part of the city is calm and any sudden sound invades the silence of the night.
I was woken in the night by an unexpected siren resounding through the street. Slightly disoriented, I remembered the days when I used to live one street off the main route to Vancouver General Hospital. Sirens blared day and night and were usually disregarded unless they caught me in a more lucid state of mind. If it was one of the rare moments when I took notice, I’d send a prayer or just a thought of love out as the sound waved in. Last night though, in my startled state, I was just left wondering whose lives had possibly just changed forever.
In Greek mythology, the Sirens’ song is a call to death. When I heard the siren last night, my mind went back to nine months ago, when my family was trying to piece together what happened the night of my sister’s accident. As we searched through her phone trying to find answers, we saw a message from one of her friends asking about the commotion of sirens near my sister’s house. Her friends were just a few blocks away, watching fireworks at the park, perhaps with a subtle awareness that the sirens had called out to her.
The impact of a siren’s call is easy to ignore when it doesn’t directly affect our lives. I remember walking by an ambulance parked in front of my apartment building last Autumn. Once inside, I saw the stretcher outside the door across from mine but the hush of the hallway led me to think everything was fine. Two months later, I saw my neighbour appearing gaunt and pale, the life drained out of him; I asked him how he was. He said that things had been really hard since his wife died two months prior. I lived in the building for two more months after that, witnessing him wither more and more. I didn’t know what to say or do, so I just listened if he tried to speak or make my eyes available if we passed in the hall. I thought I should reach out more, but taking into account my own discomfort with death and loss, and everything else that was on my plate, I knew my reach would fall short.
I know what it is like to be offered support by those, who with good intentions, reach out but can’t make the stretch for whatever reason. It’s worse than no one reaching out at all – because in a time when hopes are already dim, to be given a false spark just intensifies the darkness.
When people are struck by grief, loss, or illness it’s awkward, and we want to offer a flicker of light to help them out of the shadows. But if our own bulb has a short circuit, we can’t help the other rewire. It may be more helpful to just hold another in the darkness and trust the light will come back in its own time.