Stop When You Hear the Siren

The middle of the afternoon is not a great time to be out on the roads in Delhi to begin with. It’s July and even though the heat has abated a bit, it’s not too far from the days when “It’s only gonna be 103° at 7 tomorrow morning, we should go running” was something I actually said.

On this particular afternoon, I was in a hurry. I had to be back at a certain time, and the traffic was bad. I’d just witnessed a near collision as a scooter very much like mine mistook a turn signal and nearly careened into an oncoming motorcycle. But these are daily occurrences driving here. It keeps me constantly agitated, skittish, and in fear for my life.

As I was leaving that same intersection, a mini van pulled up a few lanes over, running a loud siren. The van was painted white and red and had the word “ambulance” emblazoned across the side. I didn’t doubt that that was exactly what it was, though nothing besides the writing and the horrible sound the vehicle made gave any indication of an emergency.

Long ago and far away I visited a city in India where the cars stopped when an ambulance drove by with its sirens on. I wondered if I’d accidentally ended up in another country.

Here in Delhi, the ambulance drove by, the sirens blared, the cars did not stop, and I didn’t either.

But the thing about stopping when you hear the siren is, you pull over, the ambulance passes, and the noise goes away. If you are driving along next to it, the noise does not go away.

Suddenly hearing becomes hard (important in a country where traffic communicates by honks), and thinking becomes hard; after a few minutes of this, even driving in a reasonable way becomes hard. Your nerves are frayed because something is happening that you’re SUPPOSED to be responding to.

And amidst the ruckus, this reminded me of something . . .

There are moments in life when I know, I just know, I’m meant to do something — say something to someone, interject in a meeting, go and make up for something I did wrong, stop for the crying woman on the street, or just stop, and wait. But I don’t stop, though in my head there’s this blaring: “SOMETHING IS AMISS AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE RESPONDING TO IT.”

The traffic is moving on and it’s just easier to keep on going.

Of course, I make good excuses, you know how it goes. At least once this week I thought, “If I didn’t have somewhere to be I would sit down and talk to that little girl.” But then, when don’t I have somewhere to be?

In our hurry to get somewhere in this life, we’ve learned to ignore all that is really alive — flesh and bone and human — all around us. Even our own humanness, as we plow on through sick days, just leaning in at 2AM when the words start to blur on our screens. We’ve survived by platitudes, by putting in the earbuds, taking a double Tylenol and tonic, and moving on. Living numb, and therefore reckless, lives.

But maybe if we stopped and let the traffic rush on by us, maybe if we took a moment to sit and talk, or a day to rest, maybe would would find that the blaring in our heads lets up and we can think again, and we can hear the world around us — and the God within us. Our nerves would not be so frayed and we would know what is means to respond, and when to.

I have prayed so many prayers to keep on going, but today my prayer for me, and for you, is that we would have the grace to STOP.


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