When the sirens scream by breaking the silence, I tell myself to breathe in. Especially when I’m home alone, feeling small in a big big world. Where are you? Are they stopping on my street? Quickly I count – 1-2-3 are you all here?
Maybe it’s a trauma response. Maybe it’s because my babies aren’t living at home anymore, and the sirens are just a reminder. Some days I worry that they will stop next door, lights flashing through the fog, helpers running into my elderly neighbors’ house. I know those days will come for all of us – just like they came for my dad when I wasn’t expecting it.
I started a regular meditation practice last summer. I wanted to train my mind to slow down, to be more present and appreciate what is right here. The breath. The love. And the joy that I have no excuse to revel in, really. In meditation we’re taught to acknowledge the distraction from the breath, to be ok with our minds going to sounds and thought that intrude. I’ve learned to let the bell bring me back to myself, to my breath and my practice.
Just like the bell, the sirens always shake me from my ‘daily life’ practice. Maybe it’s because I love having my windows open, just a crack, so I’m able to keep the world on alert.
Or maybe it’s because, in the last six years, the world has changed. My nest has emptied. My safety nets have torn holes, and I’ve found myself bouncing on the ground more than a few times. I hear birds outside – geese high above, and is that a robin’s chirp rising up from under my bird feeder?
My world is changing…
I know my love is in the mountains, doing what makes him shine. I try not to think of the avalanche dangers, the injuries I know too well what can happen when one is out on the mountain, at the mercy of the Universe.
And my girl, well, she’s hundreds of miles away, alongside her fiancé and her double-doodle and nesting before her marriage next summer. She’s a risk-taker, too, but now teaches others how to be safe, how to avoid getting caught up when the cascade of snow buries everything in its path.
Right now, I know my boy is sound asleep just downstairs, one more night under our roof before he takes off for Boston and the snow and studying for four more long months. Maybe I should tiptoe downstairs and gently open his door, checking his breath as I used to when he was three.
Oh, how he’d hate it if I woke him. Better to listen for the silence instead.
When they came for my dad, the sirens were silent. They crowded into his room, the helpers trying to assess amidst the confusion we were feeling. He didn’t want to go. We didn’t want him to go, either, but needed someone to help us find a way back to center. To what was normal, to what we could control. A way out of the silence of his form, still and sideways in his bed.
We didn’t know that was the beginning of the end. We didn’t know that sometimes, the silence can be worse than the siren. That the breath can go in, in, in, in…and that sooner than we think, it won’t go back out.
The sun is struggling to burn through the morning fog now, fog that makes the siren’s scream slightly dampen. But even though I can’t see it, I know it’s out there. I pause, count my blessings and whisper a prayer for whoever beckons for help this morning. I wish you didn’t need it, but I’m glad you’re getting it.
Soon I’ll head to my cushion. I’ll sit up straight, cross my legs and breathe in…out…in…out…and settle silently. I’ll count to ten, then start over again and again until my mind is at rest and the sirens outside the window fade away.
I’ll listen to the silence. And I’ll try to breathe, and remind myself that with sadness comes joy.
Breathe, Jen. Just breathe.