One day when my son was a tiny baby, I was walking with him along the main street of our neighborhood when an ambulance went screaming past. Just ahead of us on the sidewalk were a little boy and his mother, and they jumped up and down shouting happily, “There go the helpers!”
Wow. What a nice way to think of emergency vehicles: as helpers hurrying to help people in trouble. (I’ve since learned that Mister Rogers advised this approach, too.) I resolved that this was something I, too, would say to my little boy. I do say it often, and sometimes Nicholas and I talk about the specific type of emergency vehicle it is and what kind of help it may give. I hope this is giving him a sense that we as a society help people who need it and that if he is ever in an emergency, helpers will come to him.
But long before my child was old enough to understand this talk of helpers, the idea began to have a profound effect on me. We live in an urban neighborhood where we hear at least one siren per day, and suddenly they were not just part of the background noise; they became a reminder of the suffering and healing in the world, of the crises that are happening to other people as I go about my everyday life, of the amazing fact that–despite all the bickering and callousness in our society–we agree that we must have helpers and that we must all get out of their way so they can do their helping as quickly as possible.
I now hear a siren as a call to prayer. Whatever I am doing, I pause for just a moment to pray that the helpers have strength and courage to do their very best, that the people in crisis find relief and peace, and to give thanks that my family and I are safe. It’s amazing how much this has improved my attitude toward those disruptive, noisy vehicles. The feeling of gratitude and compassion sticks with me, and I feel much less worried about what will happen to me if something goes terribly wrong. The helpers will come.
Like many people these days, I have mixed feelings about police. The newspapers are full of articles about corruption, unwarranted searches, and power-crazed officers who too quickly resort to violence. Every day people are punished for violating laws that I think shouldn’t be on the books. It’s very upsetting, but praying for the helpers helps me. When a police car zooms past with siren blaring, I pray that the officers will act with compassion and that true justice will be served. I can’t tell if it has any effect on them, but it brings me peace and confidence that if I have to deal with the police, they will help me rather than hurt me.
Try it yourself. Look for the helpers. You may be surprised just how many you see.