Take Heed

Why people ignore warnings, I’ll never understand. 

There’s a road in my town that leads to a seawall and a picnic area. The seawall’s a great place to walk; it has wonderful views of Puget Sound, the Narrows Bridges, and the peninsula on the other side of the Sound. A railroad track crosses that road. When the warning bell clangs and the barrier starts going down, a few people run in order to get across before the train arrives. I stand and wait. I’ve crossed the tracks safely many times. Once though, I slipped on on a metal plates set in the roadway and fell. Thank goodness no train was coming. More than one person has been run down by a train while crossing the tracks.

People have drowned in their cars because they ignored signs saying that there’s water on the road. They drove across anyway, not realizing how deep the water was. How many drivers are killed each year because they run stoplights or drink and drive? Warnings aren’t just about protecting ourselves. They’re also about protecting other, many of whom can’t protect themselves, such as little kids getting off school buses who might heedlessly dash across the street.

No one puts up “danger” signs or issues warnings for the fun of it. Or because they want to oppress anyone.

When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980 news of an impending eruption was everywhere on radio, on television and in newspapers. That wasn’t warning enough for some people. Nor was the fact that the side of the mountain had been bulging, and getting bigger, for weeks. Fifty-seven people died in that blast. 

Being cautious doesn’t mean never having any adventures, A mountain climber I once knew died peacefully in his bed when he was in his late eighties. One reason he lived such a long life is that he paid attention to warnings of avalanches and bad weather.

Not only do people ignore warnings, some don’t even like to hear them. “Forewarned is forearmed” is not for them.

In the 1940s, in Latvia, the country of his birth, my father was a postmaster. When the Soviets invaded the country in 1941, a friend warned my father that he was on a list of people, such as government officials, who were to be deported. My father hid out in the forest for two weeks, until it was safe to return. If he hadn’t heeded his friend’s warning, if my father had put his fingers in his ears and gone, “La-la-la, can’t hear you!” He would have been sent to Siberia where thousands of deportees from Latvia, and other nations in the path of Soviet aggression, died in forced labor camps.

My parents were newlyweds when the Soviets, who had been driven out of Latvia by the German army, were returning. A German soldier came to their apartment while my folks were having breakfast and told them of this second invasion and advised them to get out or live under a totalitarian reign of terror. My parents listened, packaged up essential belongings, and fled. They escaped because of the forewarning and because they acted immediately. Other Latvians waited too long and were turned back by the Soviets.

I am grateful that my parents knew when to take heed, otherwise I would not be here.

This is an anti-war postcard by a Russian artist. Vasily Vasilyevich VereshchaginBut the mound of skulls could also represent victims of Soviet terror, victims of the Holocaust, victims of plagues of various kinds.

6 thoughts on “Take Heed”

  1. How many news stories will I read that a sick someone who believes there is no covid arrives at a hospital emergency room only to find that yes indeed there is a pandemic. Your stories of Latvia and the Soviet invasions are absolutely chilling.


    1. Thanks for reading my essay, Peggy. Sometimes reality doesn’t set in even then. I read in the Washington Post today that nurses say that with their dying breath, some patients deny that they have C19. They swear that what they have is pneumonia or some other disease.

      It’s a chilling bit of history. And theren’s so much more of it.


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