This past weekend, I received a disturbing emergency alert message via text message.
In all capital letters it read:
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon, a high school friend and I were grabbing lunch and catching up. Two local girls who grew up on O’ahu and somehow ended up in central North Carolina many years later. Despite our new location, we were no strangers to what the island offered to those who paid attention: the tiny minnows living in the tide pools of Shark’s Cove moon-like surface, the breathless windward view atop the Stairway to Heaven in Kane’ohe, and endless availability of local and unique cuisine.
After all, where else in the world could you buy a slice of spam on rice wrapped in seaweed?
There’s a local saying that goes something like this:
“You can take the girl from the island but you can never take the island from the girl.”
Ain’t that the truth. Despite distance and time away, we’re island girls at heart.
Kathleen had just returned from visiting her family for New Year’s and we were “talking story” (a local phrase meaning to “catch up”). Her face lit up at the mention of having played with her three-year-old niece and her chubby one-year-old nephew over the holidays. The stories of her mid-70 degree tropical adventure made me reminisce warmer weather. After all, the high for the day was 40 degrees.
Somewhere between the sips of steamy pho and laughter, I noticed the text. Soon they just kept coming; more texts from friends reminding me of how much our friendship meant to them.
Confused and concerned, I asked Kathleen if anyone had tried to call her. Turns out she had accidentally left her phone at her apartment! Horrified and worried, we rushed out of the restaurant and sped to reach Kathleen’s phone. On the way, I desperately texted family, Googled, and searched social media hoping the text sent to me were just words. I was praying for the stupid text message to be a stupid prank.
We were hoping for a sick joke. A mistake. An accident.
After all, Kathleen and I each have family and friends in Hawaii. People we deeply care about on that silly rock 4,784 miles away.
There was so much distance between us to do anything.
And time. Time was not our friend if there was an ounce of truth behind the news.
We were absolutely helpless. What was going on? We were in limbo between a devastating loss and the guarantee of life. Trapped in a game of tug-of-war no one would ever want to play.
Were my aunt and uncle okay? What about my cousins? What about my best friend? Were they even still alive? Is this really happening? Are we going to war? Oh God, oh God…
The silence was deafening. It was awful. But then, there it was: False alarm. It began to pop up all over Facebook and the internet.
False alarm. False alarm.
They’re okay. They’re fine. They’re safe. Thank goodness.
When we finally reached Kathleen’s apartment, we found there were missed calls and voicemails left on her phone from her mother. We didn’t know what to expect so we sat and listened to them.
We’re under a ballistic missile threat. We’re all together and we wanted to tell you that we love you and are so proud of you…
Her mother’s voice was quivering. Scared. Nervous. Brave.
We could tell there were tears being held back.
She expressed her love and pride for her daughter and her accomplishments. She even spoke about Jesus and Heaven. She shared her hopes and dreams for Kathleen in a rather heart-wrenching message – I don’t think I’ll ever get that voice or message out of my head. The message exemplified hope and a mother’s undying love. Although Kathleen and I both work in the hospital setting, neither one of us has ever actually heard a mother’s dying words for her child.
It was powerful; it was eerie and haunting; it was emotional; it was a sobering farewell.
There was a drastic shift in tone when we got to the second voice message – it was Kathleen’s mother again:
It’s mom again. Good news. It was just a false alarm. We’re okay.
We exploded in laughter and wiped the tears away.
Stupid false alarm.
Finally, we were able to reach our family and friends. Anger and annoyance we’re evident when talking with our loved ones on the island but Hawaii was still standing. The residents are still alive despite a scare. In all respects, we were fortunate that the message was a false alarm and provided a much-needed drill to a very possible reality.
So let me ask you: if you knew your life was about to be cut short and you only had 30 minutes left…
What would be your last words? Who would you call? What would you say?
If you were able to answer the questions, let me challenge you:
Why wait for them to be your last words?
Life is incredibly short and we never know what awaits us in the next few minutes. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Life changes and it can change quickly as well as drastically. We are on this Earth for such a short period of time – why do we forget that?
Motivational speaker, Les Brown once said:
The graveyard is the richest place on Earth because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.
If we need to tell someone we love them, why?
Let’s do it now.
If we’ve been debating whether or not to forgive someone, why are we still waiting?
Let’s say sorry. Let’s write that book. Let’s catch that wave. Let’s take that risk.
Life is much too short and there is still so much left to discover.
Let’s get to living.
If you live in Hawaii (or are considering a visit) please read this to be prepared:
Here’s another interesting article by CNN about texts that were sent during the missile mishap: CNN Missile Texts
False Alarm Image by NBC News.