On not hitting the panic button: a lesson on air raid sirens and moving to a new city

It began as a din, only noticed in the sub-conscious. As it began to ascend in minor tones, my psyche kicked in and told me to tune-in. Whether I have learned to fear this sound from good (and not-so-good) war movies or if it was created for its panic-inducing sound, I am well aware the tone of an air-raid siren is not the sound of a good thing approaching.

Unless, of course, it’s noon on Tuesday in San Francisco.

The air raid sirens are tested each Tuesday for 15 seconds promptly at noon. No announcement follows to explain why. The adrenaline kick starter sounds for 15 seconds and then we all go on eating lunch.  Pay no attention to the neighbor with her head out of the window looking for tsunamis and sea-monsters. She’s new in town.

This has been the tenor of my experiences thus far. On many levels, really. In a moment of vulnerability I’ve noticed the mercury rise and my urge to hit the panic button emerge in a mere matter of seconds. Slowly, and I mean slowly, I get the notion to walk to the window. Initially it is to search for the Godzilla monster obviously afoot and triggering such alarm. Once I reach the window, I have heard children playing at the school one block over and whiffed the blooming rosemary and calla lilies growing among succulents along my street.

Even our sweet Victorian-era building held some concerning details at the outset. The most worrisome of all was the “unknown number of squatting tenants” on the third floor. We would never have known their presence was legally questionable until our property manager informed us that he was negotiating the option to evict them. In the few weeks we have been here, we have honestly lost count of the 6-17 housemates living in the flat above us. If the noise they make at night is any indication, they are multiplying by the minute. However, each individual to come down the stairs has greeted us with a smile and one even took the heavy box from my hands and carried it into our living room on his way out for the evening. A neighborly gesture I have never extended myself.

Like the air raid siren, each new experience or vulnerability has alarmed me and made me want to crawl under the record player for a split second. But giving it one moment to think, I realize the record player isn’t going to protect me and will only make me look like a dork should any rescue personnel actually find me there. I have been learning to take a moment to walk to the window, not to jump, but to take in a breath of fresh air and find the joy in the moment.

It’s been challenging and wonderful to move. This city is beautiful.


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