HONOLULU, HI – It is a moment in time that will stay with you as long as you live. An unexpected event that scars your spirit and is forever etched into your psyche. What would you do if you thought you may have only 15 minutes left to live?
On January 13, 2018 at 8:08 am, Hawaii residents and tourists got to self-witness their response to that question when phones started wailing, issuing the emergency alert: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” A message I had to read twice, because at first my brain did not want to believe what it just read.
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I have heard some people wax poetic about grabbing a bottle of wine and heading to the beach to watch the bright flash. Really? Perhaps sitting comfortably at home on your cushy sofa and having a “what if” conversation with your spouse, you can smugly say, “Well, that would likely be the end of us, so we might as well enjoy our last few minutes, right?”
But when it’s a reality, when it is truly happening, you don’t treat it like a romantic scene you once saw from a sci-fi movie. Your fight or flight mechanism kicks in, and you jump into action. You run for shelter if you’re outside – any place your mind can process in seconds that just might protect you. Any building will do.
If you’re already inside, you stay put, and if that inside is your home, you run around shutting all the windows, just in case that really can spare you from radiation fallout. You don’t really know if you’ll survive, or if you’ll initially survive but then fall sick to radiation, but you do whatever you can think of. You fill bowls and pots with water. All the while, you pray like you’ve never prayed before.
I will never forget the sound of my daughter’s voice when I answered the phone as my granddaughters and I were running around the house, and I heard her wail “Mom,” in a shaky voice. She was at work, and her daughters were with me at home. She told me she wanted to leave work and come home. I immediately imagined the bomb striking and her driving in her car, and I yelled at her, “No! There isn’t enough time! Stay where you are!” We quickly told each other what we were doing to prepare the best we could, and we hang up, so she can keep rounding up customers into the bank vault, and I can keep stuffing blankets into cracks, because it might not help, but it might. Wait, did I tell her I love her? Well, she knows, she knows.
I imagine she might be protected and safe if she’s in the vault, but in our 70-year-old wooden plantation house, maybe not so much. I cry as I apologize in my heart to her that I may not be able to save her daughters. She is at the bank promising herself that if we don’t make it, she doesn’t want to live.
I call my husband who is out on his daily walk and who I know will take none of this seriously – that’s just his personality to be skeptical about everything. I am prepared to hear him balk at me, and he does, but I still yell at him that he needs to get home NOW. “Okay, fine. I’ll just finish my walk later,” he says, and in prayer number 27, I beg that he gets home before we are hit.
In the last few minutes, there is nothing left to do but wait. I turn on the TV, but not one iota of news is out there about this horrific event about to take place. That doesn’t set right with me. How can that be? Surely the world knows what is heading our way. My oldest granddaughter says to turn on the radio. And that’s when we realize we don’t have a radio. She suggests the one in the car, but we can’t go “out there.”
Finally, our local news channel interrupts regular programming to let us know it was a mistake – a false alarm. My phone rings, and I hear the relief in my daughter’s voice who wants to make sure we heard it wasn’t really happening. When she gets home from work later that day, she says, “I have never been so happy to come home in all my life.”
We are changed. Suddenly, the pettiness of day-to-day living challenges falls away, and we are left with gratitude to simply be with one another, to help each other, to get someone a cup of tea. Although not liking the way the message was delivered, we are humbled to have a new perspective.
That night I cannot sleep, thinking about how unprepared we were for something we may not in reality be able to prepare for. I start making a list in my head – check why the bathroom window would not close, buy a radio and get more butane canisters for the portable stove. Living in hurricane territory, being prepared for lack of water and power for a few days is a given, but you can always prepare for that if you’re not completely ready, because you have hours, days before the event will arrive.
My list begins to fill up, so I get out of bed and turn on my laptop and begin making a “Survival Checklist.” But then I decide I don’t like the lethal sound of the word survival, so I change it to “Preparedness.” I log into amazon and fill a cart with collapsible water containers, a solar and battery-operated and crank AM/FM radio with a built-in phone charger, flashlight, and bonus bracelet with a flint fire starter – might come in handy. I add battery-operated LED lanterns. I have one for the house now, but if we are lucky enough to survive and are stuck in the house for a couple of weeks without power, we’ll need more. At this point, a big pack of 100 batteries makes sense – and yes, I made sure that every battery-operated item in my cart used the same type of batteries just to make it simple. Might as well get some mailing tape, because it will be more efficient than trying to seal cracks with towels and blankets.
As my shopping cart and checklist begin to make me feel secure that I have done what I can to prepare, I add one more item to my amazon cart – a percolator. I decide if I’m going to live, I’m not going to live without brewed coffee. And with that luxury item safely in place, I am suddenly tired and ready to shut down and crawl back into bed.
I listen to the wind chimes outside my bedroom window and relish in the quiet of the house. I am thankful that everyone in my family is soundly sleeping in their beds, on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, unchanged by any heinous human infliction of power and madness. But forever changed ourselves, for the better.
© Linda Hohnholz 2018