The first siren was invented just before the 18th gave way to the 19th century. It was invented by a Scotsman, John Robison, with the thought that it would be a musical instrument. It consisted of a pneumatic tube that was opened and closed with the use of a plug. Sound was created when the flow of air was interrupted. In 1819, the siren was improved by using two perforated disks in place of the plug. One disk was stationary and the other rotated, interrupted the flow of air, and produced a tone. That tone could even be made underwater.
And, soon, the siren became much more than a musical instrument.
And what does that have to do with you or me or Allister?
Allister learned to be a siren at a young age. It had not been planned. It had merely been necessary. The local fire department’s engine siren had broken. And Allister, being a young local fireman, was present when the break was discovered. All the local firemen, those that were younger and elder and those that were still unsure of how old they were, crowded together to discuss what could be done. The siren could be taken apart. A large and loud brass bell could be affixed to the engine like it had been in the past.
And either of those plans could have worked if there had been time to accomplish them. But, there was not. A fire was raging at the home of the McDermott family. There was no time to repair the old siren and no time to acquire a new bell. The local fire engine, its local water, and its local firemen were needed.
And if you have already been in a situation such as that, you will know the feeling that Allister and the other local firemen had. The feeling of not knowing how to properly do what needed to be done, but knowing that it needed to be done. There is the idea of a shocked pause in those situations. But, what you will realize after those moments are done is that there was never a pause at all. The idea of the pause came from the fact that your mind was catching up to what the rest of your body was already doing. And what the rest of your body was doing was taking action.
When Allister’s mind caught up to his body, it found him stepping to the passenger-side runner board as the local fire engine roared out of the garage. And Allister breathed in all the air his lungs could possibly hold, threw his head back, opened and closed his throat, interrupted the flow of breath, and shrieked a siren as loud as he possibly could.
Now, I say ‘siren’ because that is what it was- a siren. But, Allister had not thought about the sound, had not practiced what he would belt, had not even tried to mimic the memory of the local fire engine’s broken siren. The sound that he bellowed forth was solely Allister’s siren. And, as the local fire engine charged through the town, his siren was a beacon to all the people who could help and a warning to all those that could not to clear out of the way.
And, after each and every McDermott had been safely saved, all the local firemen crowded around Allister and shook his hand and patted him on the back and begged him to be their permanent siren.
Allister blushed just a hue lighter than the local fire engine’s red. And he pictured himself proudly hanging off the local fire engine, perfecting the tone of his siren until it was so loud that it could be used to warn local fire departments hundreds of miles away and so beautiful that it could proudly lead any parade.
It was a nice thought. But, instead of taking on the new job, Allister taught each and every local fireman how to belt out their own siren. And, in an attempt to respond to emergencies as soon as they erupted, the local firemen taught the local people to belt their own sirens. Soon enough, all emergencies (be it a burning fire or a searing loneliness) were being attended to before they even had the chance to be emergencies.
And what does that have to do with you or me?
Well, somewhere along the line, perhaps through aging or perhaps through complacency, the town stopped teaching everyone to be a siren. And, perhaps that was quite fine for a while.
But, there comes a time when something feels quite wrong, when all seems like a whirling storm of madness, and we do not know what to do or how to help. We only know that the situation is dire. It is an emergency. And it is important to remember that we do not need to know the right words or the right action. We do not need permission and we certainly do not need to wait.
We are our own sirens.
We need only throw our heads back and let our sirens loose. And I promise, if you do, you will find others who feel the same and those that cannot (or will not) help will know to clear out of our way.
Somewhere between apathy and the apocalypse are voices waiting to be heard.
And now is the time for sirens, my friends.