So this morning was, for a few minutes, possibly the most scared I have ever been.
We had big plans today, the kids and me. We were heading to beautiful Waimea Valley for a walk to the waterfall, and then going to do lunch in Hale’iwa and some beach time. After getting dressed I came down to my kitchen to finish getting ready and checked my phone to see an Emergency Alert about a ballistic missile headed straight for Hawaii. I was told to take shelter immediately.
My toddler was whining and on the verge of throwing one of his ever-so-popular tantrums because I wasn’t responding right away; my five-year-old was playing with his Legos on the counter right next to the kitchen window; and my daughter was upstairs getting ready to leave.
What. The. [insert four letter word of your choosing here].
I had text messages going with about five different people, mostly military friends, a couple here on the island, a couple not, and my husband who wasn’t home at the time, or even close to home. I asked my military friends if this was real and what to do! They all advised me to stay inside away from windows and doors. Great. I was home alone, with my three babies, and I realized how utterly unprepared we were for an emergency crisis. In NH, we had an “emergency” plan for things like fires, and security threats. We haven’t talked about that yet here in our new home. We had no bottled water, we barely had any groceries left, never mind nonperishable food items. No flashlight, no medical supplies, nothing.
I told my babies to come to me, at the same time my husband was calling me on my cell phone. I can’t imagine how helpless and scared he felt with all of us so far from him in the middle of the scariest emergency we’d ever faced. I was starting to full on panic. I was convinced that the worst was going to happen. I mean, it was an emergency alert that literally said “This is not a test. This is really happening”.
One of my friends who had served in the navy, here in Hawaii for three years, reminded me that the sirens should be going off. There are incredibly loud sirens on every street corner that get tested once a month, right in the middle of nap time of course, as well as in all the military bases, and in serious threat, those sirens would be going off. His reminder calmed my heart-racing by the tiniest ounce, but until someone could tell me that there was no longer serious threat, I could not catch my breath.
As my husband was trying to calm me down on the phone, and trying to convince me to leave the place I was sitting on the floor next to the inner most wall of our house, to turn the television on for news, I was increasingly aware that my children were dead silent and watching my every expression, hearing my every word. I was careful in what I was saying out loud because I didn’t want to scare them more than they already were, I was so upset though because all I could think is, they have no idea what’s about to hit them. There was a lot of pressure and I felt myself being crushed under all the emotions, panic, and convincing that these were potentially our last moments together.
Finally, someone sent me the most amazing text message of all. It was a snapshot from one of our state representatives (that state rep is PISSED by the way, and has been all over the news if you haven’t noticed).
I finally gave in to my tears. Although I was so relieved, when my husband asked me if I was okay, I whimpered, “No,”. When he told me he loved me I couldn’t even respond. My children began asking questions. What’s wrong Momma, what’s happening, etc. I wasn’t even sure how to properly answer their questions; I still didn’t want them to worry.
It took a whole 33 minutes from the time I received that first alert, until I received the second saying “False Alarm”. I haven’t watched the news yet, but I’ve been told they are saying someone accidentally hit a wrong button. And it took them 33 minutes to tell us that?! Are you kidding me? How many other people were in similar positions as me?! Hundreds of thousands! Hundreds of thousands or more of us, plus any tourists who got the alert, panicking and wondering what the hell to do. I am still shocked that it took that long, and that is part of why our state representative is so fired up.
I had so many thoughts and feelings after this experience.
You see, part of why I felt so panicked and shocked and unprepared is because I had no idea what the heck was going on! Not only had I no plan, no supplies, but I literally didn’t even know what a ballistic missile truly meant, what taking shelter meant, or how much time I had before said missile hit our island! Was it minutes? Was it days? I had no idea! If it hit, was there really any chance of survival, even in “shelter”, or was it useless? Should I be more prepared for those situations and start saving in case this ever happens again? I was under the assumption that Hawaii was a “safe” place to live because of all the military here (Hawaii is unique in that it has every branch of the government here, even on Oahu alone!). Also as a friend of mine once said, most countries wouldn’t waste a missile trying to hit Hawaii because “it is much easier to hit a football field than it is a trash can”. (Hawaii is a tiny group of islands far from any other land in a very large ocean).
When my heart finally stopped beating at a dangerous rate, I gave all my kids hugs and kisses, told them I loved them, and we carried on with our day the best we could. What else could we do?!
We went to Waimae Valley. The weather was perfect, the children and I enjoyed some time in the middle of nature, with no cell phone service, and no worries about anything more dangerous than tripping and falling on the path. I could sense the relief around me. It seemed like everyone was cheery and simply happy to be alive and enjoying the beautiful weather. I know that’s how I felt. When my kids asked to pause and look at the millionth huge green leaf, that we’d already seen the whole walk, I said yes. When they asked me for shaved ice, even though they didn’t finish their sandwiches, I said yes. When they asked to take turns pushing the stroller, I said yes. Usually, I would say no to all these requests (I know, I am a control freak). But even though there had been no real threat to our lives, I was still so grateful to be alive. Even though, in retrospect, there had been no real chance of our being blown up this morning, the feelings and thoughts I had experienced were as real as the air I am breathing now. And they threw me into a place of gratefulness once again, for this amazing life I get to live, and the beauty of wanting to inspect those leaves, and taste that ice, and see those gorgeous ocean waves.
Don’t take today for granted, friends.
We truly don’t ever know 100% what is going to happen. In my potential last moments of life, all I could think about was how much I loved my babies and my husband. And how I wasn’t ready for it to be over.