There are sounds that have become part of our collective memory. The rumble of thunder, birds brightly chirping, an airplane passing overhead, a knock on the door, a voice, a song, a dog’s bark. One sound, however, is irreparably changed for me.
It being a rainy Sunday morning today, my inclination was to either stay in bed until noon or sit by the fireplace, and read. But I told my friend George that I would meet him at Eliot Unitarian Chapel for eleven o’clock service. I’ve been dipping my toe, so to speak, into Eliot in my search for meaning or belonging or an alternative to Meet the Press. Maybe all three.
The sanctuary was full. George and I sat in the back row. He had knee surgery recently and needs the leg room. I like to look at all the people, like Eleanor Rigby. The service began. Piano solo, singing, readings, the children’s gathering, silent thought and remembrance, and then the sermon, by Reverend Gadon. She spoke of memory, of reviewing our lives, of reaching into our past to help define who we are today. She spoke about a people who have survived in spite of hatred and intolerance. This, in the shadow of the killings at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. Her sermon was laced with warm humor and personal insights. She talks “with” people, not “at” them.
Part way through Reverend Gadon’s sermon, a passing siren broke the mood. Seconds later, a second siren sped by. They were intrusive, dominant, sharpened by unknown events somewhere “out there.” Months ago, even weeks ago, I would have assumed they were going to a fire, a domestic dispute, an auto accident or maybe even an attempted hold-up in some store. Not today. The sound of the siren uncovered something new in me. Possibly for many of the others in the congregation as well. It now carried a different message, a reminder and a warning.
Today it seemed possible there might just be another mass shooting somewhere, a nut with guns and lots of clips who had decided it was time to take action to get rid of evil in our community, our nation. Someone who realized that now it was safe to step out of the darkness and do something. Sitting in the sanctuary of the chapel, I couldn’t assume this was a “safe place.” I couldn’t assume that the many churches in Kirkwood on this Sunday morning were immune from this hatred. Perhaps the sound of the siren carried new meaning to them as well.
Reverend Gadon continued with her comments on life, unity, acceptance, and survival. With some effort I pulled myself back into the moment. She concluded on a note of hope. The service ended with warmth and uplifted spirits, people chatting and shaking hands and laughing.
And yet…and yet…