Growing up, the street lights coming on were the warning for my siblings and I that it was time to drop whatever it was that we were doing and make a mad dash to be within viewing distance of our front door by the time that our mother was standing there. Not to take heed of this signal was the surest way to receiving the "no privileges" punishment, including not being allowed to return outside to play the next day.
Most things in life give us warning. Some warnings are instinctive and we recognize them almost subconsciously. A terrible cold, for example, might be prefaced by a scratchy throat or a bothersome runny nose. A torrential rain storm might be preceded by a dark sky.
Sometimes warnings come as plain as the yellow signal at a traffic light or the police officer who lets us go after being stopped for speeding.
Then, there are those less obvious warnings, though, ironically, they often occur right before us. In this group is where we find the abusive boyfriend whose girlfriend noticed how quickly he would lose his temper with others, but dismissed it.
Also, here is where we find the daughter who committed suicide, the son who has an alcohol or drug addiction, and the mother who suffered a heart attack or stroke. Each of these circumstances was preceded by warning signs, the signs that we often ignore.
Obviously, warnings come in various forms for the many facets of our lives to relay important messages. However, the thing I most appreciate about warnings is that they allow us time and opportunity to make crucial decisions to do something in our present to avoid problems in our future. They, like road signs, give us a sense of direction and when followed, we can move fairly well throughout our life's journey.
That scratchy throat or runny nose lets us know that we might need to go to the medicine cabinet or make a trip to Walgreen's to try to cut that cold off at the onset. Otherwise, a potential cold might get us down and keep us away from our responsibilities.
Likewise, that dark overcast signals to us to take shelter, or at least an umbrella, right? We know to prepare to stop when we encounter a stop sign or to proceed with caution when we see a yellow signal at a traffic light. We know that we need to be more conscious of our speed going forward to avoid a traffic ticket or even an accident.
Whether or not we elect to take heed is perhaps the most significant predictor of the outcome of our near or distant future.
What I also have found to be true, however, is that at times -- even as we, ourselves, are moving along rather smoothly along life's journey -- we can encounter warning signals that point to trouble in the lives of others.
When it comes to our mental and physical well-being, sometimes people are simply not aware of the warning signs. Sometimes those signs are signals to the others of us around them to intervene and to take some action.
That action might be to educate someone on the effects of alcohol and drug use on the brain and body or to spend more time with someone who seems withdrawn and uninterested in life. We might cook a healthy dinner for someone we love and talk to them about how making changes to his or her diet could reduce their risk for heart disease or stroke.
Whatever the case may be, when it comes to helping to save the lives of those we care about, it sometimes requires that we illuminate, or bring light to, the warnings that might otherwise keep them in the darkness of obliviousness or worse -- denial.
Friends don't let friends miss the signs.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.