I Warned You!

March 9, 2022

From the late 1800s to 1986, before the development of electronic detectors, coal miners habitually carried canaries down into the mines with them. The idea was that these small birds would react much more quickly to carbon monoxide, and when they keeled over, the humans would know to skedaddle. I’m no animal lover (I’m more an animal tolerator), but this used to really bother me. I completely understood the need for some kind of warning system, but all those poor dead canaries!

It was with great relief that I learned about the resuscitator cage. Developed in the 1920s, this was a special cage for those little feathered prognosticators. When a bird started looking droopy, the circular door would close and oxygen would be injected by a valve from a tank on top of the cage. The result was a revived canary—and duly warned miners. It seems that the miners were very fond of their chirping companions, and determined to rescue them if they got into trouble.

Early warning systems of one kind or another have always been with us (read your Bible and try to count the number of warnings issued by prophets—OFTEN disregarded). As technology has improved, these systems have gotten more sophisticated, but the concept is the same: getting out in front of a disaster and hopefully averting it, or at least mitigating the damage. Sometimes the systems fail (I’ll never forget the terrifying false alarm my sister received in Hawaii a few years ago about a possible attack by North Korea), but far better to have a system in place than not. Btw my favorite title for one of these is the California earthquake warning system called Shake Alert, which sounds rather lighthearted, something an ice cream parlor might use as an ad (“Shake Alert—try our our yummy triple chocolate milkshake!”).

In addition to natural catastrophes, there is the EWS Network for Student Success, which identifies risk factors that impact school performance. There are various warning systems developed by the World Health Organization to predict future pandemics and other infectious diseases. I am already dreading the age when I will be asked to take a cognitive ability test to screen for dementia, because I can absolutely see myself freezing up and saying that the current president is Rutherford B. Hayes.

As a parent, I was quite the seer, telling my children that if they kept tipping that chair back they would fall, that if they didn’t REALLY brush they would have cavities, and if they didn’t stop poking their sister they would get a timeout. They rarely heeded me. But I was always 100% correct! So there!

We can’t live our lives paralyzed with fear, for sure, and there are risks worth taking. But when there’s a lot on the line, for ourselves and others, I think we’d all do well to take notice of warnings, most of which are issued to protect us.

And in our dangerous world, that’s not a bad thing.


    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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