A few weeks ago, my husband and I had just dropped our daughter off for an entrance exam at one of the local schools. We were standing outside the testing center (the school cafeteria), chatting with some other parents, when suddenly everyone’s cell phones started to beep:
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
We all stood there for a moment a little stunned and a bit skeptical. We get these warnings periodically for flash floods and tsunamis, but an IBM attack would be a first. It was a gorgeous morning on the island. A perfect day in paradise. Hard to believe that our world was going to come to an end in the next 15 minutes?
But when the school principal made an announcement telling everyone to get to the gymnasium immediately, reality kicked in.
I turned to my husband and, with no irony, said, “This is your fault for not voting for Hillary.” He just looked at me like I was from Mars.
We then split off in different directions to look for our daughter.
I was told that the high school kids were being sent to the boy’s locker room and the junior high school kids were being sent to the girl’s locker room. So I went to the boy’s locker room, but my husband and daughter were not there. I checked my phone and found a text from my daughter:
I had a strange mix of emotions reading this text:
Part of me was beaming with delight that she is so fiercely independent that she would communicate this information to me so matter of factly and tell me not to worry.
Part of me wondered if she was actually relieved to be getting out of her three-hour entrance exam that she didn’t want to take in the first place.
And part of me was concerned by the number of grammatical errors and typos.
As I stood in the boy’s locker room, with dozens of other parents and students (a number of whom were quite shaken up), separated from my daughter and my husband (who I later learned were holed up in the girl’s locker room), I just felt annoyed. Annoyed that this was how I was going to be spending the last 15 minutes of my life. Annoyed that I had a head cold. Annoyed that all of this was happening because someone had stepped on the proverbial anthill with North Korea and now this was how it all ends. But 15 minutes passed… and nothing happened.
Slowly the texts started coming in that it was a false alarm. There were rumors about it being a hack. There were rumors about a shift change in emergency services. There were rumors about someone hitting the wrong button. A couple of people said it was supposed to be a “high surf advisory” warning.
Really? Shouldn’t a "surf advisory" be something like a yellow button?
Shouldn’t the “Incoming Ballistic Missile” button be a red one? Or a bigger one?
Shouldn’t there have been a second button that says: “Are you sure?”
I can’t even delete an app on my phone without getting a second “Are you sure?” warning.
Even after the missile crisis was deemed a “false alarm,” the school still sent everyone home and rescheduled the test. My daughter was thrilled.
Later, my husband and I talked about whether or not we were actually scared. Oddly, I was not scared. He says that was because I was too distracted by my head cold. I said that might be true but, honestly, I just felt like it was out of my hands. What could I possibly do to stop a missile from blowing us all up?
He didn’t think the missile was going to hit our island. So, for him, it was an issue of fallout. Radiation poisoning. Being stuck in that locker room for days or weeks until someone in a hazmat suit was able to bring us food and water. He worried about how long it would be before it would be safe to go outside again.
Turns out we had two very different scenarios in our head. Mine was fatalistic. Nothing we can do. Why are we going for cover anyway? While he was only thinking about how devastated the islands would be, the amount of destruction of infrastructure and the possible long-term ramifications of radiation exposure, etc.
My husband accused me of being more traumatized a few years back when our youngest daughter got lice on vacation. (He was not wrong. We were in a foreign country and I didn’t know how to communicate with the pharmacist about the instructions on the shampoo.)
This pretty much exemplifies the way we each see the world. He’s a big picture guy. A chess player. A strategist. A blank canvas architect. I am a detail girl. Worrying (planning) the little things. Time management. Day to day stuff. Logistics. Since I hadn’t entertained another scenario, I just figured this was completely beyond my control. So it was either the end of the world (or at least our world as we know it) or it was nothing.
Thankfully it was nothing.
The whole thing lasted about 38 minutes. Everyone had a different reaction. For some, it was truly terrifying. For others, it caused them to re-examine what they would do next time (G-d forbid). A bunch of people slept through it. And finally, there were people who saw an opportunity. So they made tee-shirts... like this one: