Have you ever been awakened at night by a siren? That sound you hear when a police car, fire truck or ambulance is rushing to the scene of some emergency? It can be scary because it is so loud and you know that something bad has happened -- an accident, fire or a crime.
In fact, the word "siren" is very old and used to mean something different from the meaning it has today.
In the old stories, the Sirens were beautiful women who lived by the edge of the sea. They could sing so sweetly that anyone who heard them would forget everything that he or she was doing and try to get closer to them to hear better.
If you happened to be a sailor, as most of the unlucky people who heard them were, you would jump overboard and try to swim to them or even steer the whole ship toward them. This always happened -- with one famous exception -- according to the old stories. It was invariably a bad mistake because it resulted in drowning and shipwreck.
And so the Sirens came to be associated with disaster.
Today, I thought about the siren. And then sat down and wrote
This little poem about it and its single, doleful note
To show it's more than just a noise that comes from a machine.
Now, read the poem and you will learn exactly what I mean.
The sound that frightens us at night: the wailing of the siren.
In daytime, too, it tends to scare when heard in our environs.
It's loud, it's shrill, it startles us. We know there's something wrong
Whenever we do chance to hear the siren's mournful song.
Imagine in some distant place your very dearest friend
Was lost or hurt or in a jam. You'd want your help to send.
And sure you'd want your friend to know that help was on its way
And all the folks for miles around to clear the way -- and pray.
If it were me, I'll tell you what: I'd holler, scream and yell
As loud and long as ever I could till all the world I'd tell
How much I cared, how far I'd run to help a friend in need
Or any fellow human of any gender, race or creed.
You see, the siren's just the sound of all our many voices
Joined as one to voice concern for one more common crisis.
To one who's lost or hurt or scared, it says: "Help's on the way".
To all the rest of us it says: "It might be you some day."
So, when you hear that sound and someone's asking or inquiring,
Tell them that we're listening to our good old friend the siren.
Not the kind that long ago lured sailors to disaster
But that which helps to clear the way so help can get there faster.
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