Years ago, when I was not yet a teenager, my father nearly died. He had a series of heart attacks, but then a triple bypass saved his life. There is so much to say about the weeks he spent in the hospital and the months he spent in recovery, as well as the miracles of medicine and the mysteries of the human body, but I want to say something about when his failing heart first shot pains through his left arm.
It was early in the morning, but he knew exactly what was happening in his chest and woke my mother to ask her to call an ambulance. Our telephone was in the living room, but before she could leave their bedroom to use it, he asked for something else. My father asked that the ambulance not use its siren.
Weeks later, when the fear of death had receded like some strange tide, my mother asked him about the siren. My father said simply that he worried it would have woken and frightened his three sleeping daughters. It is true that we were all light sleepers and that our farm was usually blanketed by the polite silence that comes from having no close neighbors, but what impossible kindness there was in my father’s request.