False Alarm

I had this book review all set and ready to be put out for you today, Reader, because it’s VBS week and there is not a whole lot left in me.  I have no idea how people do this year after year, and I still have today left, and then I will have to do A LOT of processing, because there is so much this week.  So I will tell you about VBS next week, but in the mean time, I though, book review, great!  I need to get some of these off my desk.

Then, at a bit before four o’clock this morning, an insistent electronic whining woke me up.  My first inclination, of course, was to whack my alarm clock, but it wasn’t that—also, it was still dark out, so that wasn’t right.  So I tried to go back to sleep and hope it would go away.

Ten minutes later, it was still going, and I was not asleep, so I decided to figure this out.  I checked all of my various electronics that beep—nope, none of mine.  Put my ear to the window…yes, definitely an outside noise.  Not a car alarm, but it had the same repetitive nature.  Drag myself out of bed, cursing that my actual alarm will be going off in two and a half hours, and realize the noise is louder in the living room.  I open my door and figure out that it’s a fire alarm.


I go back into my house, climb on a chair, and feel the ceiling, because I’m on the bottom level and would be able to tell if this were real.  Since it’s been beeping for fifteen minutes and I smell no smoke or burned things, I have my doubts.  I have this realization right about the time that an actual fire truck (lights, no siren) pulls into my parking lot, and I hear one of the maintenance guys wandering around and telling other people who have poked their sleepy heads into the humidity of the early morning that there doesn’t appear to be an actual fire, but he’s checking.

After about another ten minutes of me somewhat creepily standing at my door listening to what’s going on, the alarm shuts off and Maintenance Guy tells everyone someone pulled the alarm, it’s okay, there’s no fire, it’s too damn early for this stuff.

Truth, I think, standing in my foyer in my summer pajamas, fuzzily sending unkind thoughts to whatever tripped that alarm.

Maintenance Guy sends the fire truck away and we all head back to bed.  Of course, my brain has now been turned on for the day, which means it will be at least another half an hour before it powers down enough for me to sleep.  So I lay there, and compose pieces of this, and think about the fact that holy crap, there was just a fire alarm.

What if it had been real?

There’s a personality test question that people use a lot as a group icebreaker:  if your house was burning and you could only grab one thing, what would it be?

I’ve always hated this question, because it’s a terribly unreal scenario.  If your house is burning, you’re going to freak the crickets out first, and then you’re going to grab whole armfuls of things before making a mad dash for the lawn and hoping it doesn’t spread to other peoples’ houses.  Also, the things you grab when the building is on fire are likely not going to be the things you’d think you would grab, because facing destruction rather changes your priorities from thinking about it in an air-conditioned meeting hall.

But I realized this morning that I not only didn’t bother grabbing anything, I didn’t even leave my apartment.  We as a culture are so very prepared for things, drilling ourselves all the time, that we distrust the actuality of it.  We wait when we hear sirens because we’re sure it’s just another practice run, we question and dither and go back to bed with choice words uttered at whomever has caused us this momentary distress.  I didn’t check for actual signs of fire until fifteen minutes after I’d first heard the alarm.

I would have been toast, if it had been real.

And yes, I know, it would have been different because there would have been signs and that sort of thing, but it’s a sobering thing to spend your four o’clock hour understanding that all that you have is so very, very fragile.  Do I need all this stuff?  Would I miss it three years from now?  Would I trust my own instincts enough to get myself out?  What about the others—would I have gone back for my neighbors who refused to think that sometimes it’s not a false alarm?

I’m not much of one for the what if game, but it’s definitely something to ponder.  How terribly often we are given warnings in our lives, and how terribly often we roll over and put the pillow on our heads—praise be to God that today that was not a costly mistake.


For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:21, NIV)

4 thoughts on “False Alarm

  1. bronxboy55 says:

    I liked this post a lot, especially these two sentences:

    “…facing destruction rather changes your priorities from thinking about it in an air-conditioned meeting hall…”


    “We as a culture are so very prepared for things, drilling ourselves all the time, that we distrust the actuality of it.”

    I realize this happened weeks ago, but I’m glad you’re okay!


    • Thank you! I’m glad I’m okay, too, and it’s been interesting to hear car alarms or fire drills at work or wherever in the light of it. It’s hard to balance worry and complacency, which is sort of the curse of having stuff. I wonder if the Buddhists and the Fransciscans aren’t on to something in their aversion to loving and hoarding things.


  2. Glad you’re not toast. And I’m glad you’re learning a lot from VBS.


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