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    Donna’s Chronicles, “It’s funny how something as simple as the repeated blare of a fire alarm can elicit an entire range of emotions…”

    By Donna Sachet–

    It’s funny how something as simple as the repeated blare of a fire alarm can elicit an entire range of emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions. When the fire alarm system in the building in which we live was recently tested at an early morning hour, this column took an entirely different direction. After reading the San Francisco Chronicle cover to cover (admittedly without the sports section), we were startled to hear a repeated high-pitched tone, announcing the testing of the building’s fire alarm system. Even though we had received notice of this test, the piercing sound came as an unwelcome surprise.

    First of all, our delightful little puppy Peanut went into a fit of discomfort, seemingly experiencing pain at the pitch of the sound as well as a restless fear that something was terribly wrong. For several minutes, comforting this helpless animal with hugs and soft verbal assurances was the top priority. We have often wished that Peanut could tell us what was wrong when she is not feeling well and now, we wished we could tell her in a way she could understand that this was simply a routine test and no cause for real concern. But lacking a common vocabulary, we resorted to calming caresses. What if this had not been a test, but a real emergency, requiring immediate action? As any pet owner knows, the responsibility for their well-being falls on our shoulders and that weight can feel very heavy in emergency situations.

    Soon, our thoughts turned to those who have experienced the threat of wildfires in California. What first went through their minds as they smelled menacing smoke and got the official call to evacuate? What items does one hastily grab before leaving the safety of home? Should that include a laptop computer or are its contents somehow safely stored in “the cloud?” Is that little stash of cash readily available to snatch from its hiding place, are there irreplaceable personal mementos close at hand, and what legal documents would be most difficult to duplicate? Having moved from a larger place into a small apartment over the last couple years, we have certainly streamlined our possessions considerably, but regardless, we remain surrounded by a collection of comforts that represent our life and we would be hard pressed to sacrifice them. We can only imagine the emotional turmoil another person might face if a house full of furniture and other possessions was suddenly endangered. Recent fires to the north of San Francisco are a constant reminder of the fragility of our existence, the true value of possessions, and the importance of having plans in case of an emergency.

    As the fire alarm continued to wail, we thought about how many other people would be faced with heart-wrenching fears for the safety of their loved ones. When faced with an approaching fire, sudden earthquake, or other disaster, many people awake not to a furry pet, but to their life partner and/or other family members. Is everyone accounted for? Can we all get to safety quicky?  How do we reach missing family members or other loved ones to check on their safety? All those thoughts race through the mind, even as one embraces those close by. In the time of this pandemic, many have commented on missing personal contact, physical affection, and social intimacy; how quickly would they embrace when faced with impending disaster?

    Several minutes into the piercing sound of the alarm, growing increasingly perturbed at the interruption, our thoughts turned to the unfinished business of life. What goals stay unachieved, what projects remain, what words are left unsaid? Yes, it now seems silly, but we began a process of self-evaluation, as if faced with a real life-threatening emergency. Just as those victims of wildfires and other natural disasters and those faced with a dire diagnosis due to COVID-19 or some other health emergency, we rifled through our mental files as if our time on Earth was coming to an end. Some might consider it morose, but isn’t it wise to occasionally stop the mania of our hectic schedules and ponder the greater questions of life? Better to confront unexamined issues while capable of taking action than to postpone their consideration until action is impossible.

    Finally, the monotonous repetition of the blaring fire alarm suddenly ceased, leaving a dull echo in our ears. Peanut returned to a restful nap and we set about our morning routine. For us, no real emergency existed. For the moment, life continued as it had.  But later that day, we made a couple of long-delayed phone calls to friends, we pulled some legal documents and cash from their forgotten corner, and we checked on the memory storage of our computer. Oh, and we gave Peanut an extra caress and a tasty treat. Our compassion and empathy for those faced with harrowing emergencies has grown larger and deeper. We return to normalcy with a little more self-awareness. Maybe that routine fire alarm building check served a larger purpose.

    Donna Sachet is a celebrated performer, fundraiser, activist and philanthropist who has dedicated over two decades to the LGBTQ Community in San Francisco. Contact her at

    Calendar a/la Sachet

    Saturday, October 10
    Mr. & Miss Gay Pageant
    Imperial Court’s virtual event
    Hosted by Ruby Red Munro
    4 pm
    Saturday, October 10

    Soirée 2020
    SF LGBT Community Center’s virtual gala
    Hosted by Sister Roma, entertainment curated by Juanita MORE!, DJ LadyRyan, online auction
    6 pm
    Free! But donations welcome
    Friday, October 16

    Reunion: Making History
    GLBT Historical Society’s virtual gala
    Hosted by Peaches Christ & Marga Gomez
    6 pm–7:30 pm
    Saturday, November 7

    MIGHTY REAL: PRC’s annual gala
    Online event with special guest Patti LaBelle
    6 pm

    Published on October 8, 2020