This past Saturday morning was one of those moments that will be difficult to forget.
It started out like almost every other Honolulu Saturday morning for me. Slept in a little bit (compared to a work day). Caught the bus down to the coffee shop where I usually grab a hot breakfast before walking over to check out what’s new at Barnes and Noble. Frustratingly, the wifi was out, so I had to settle for my phone and whatever was downloaded to my iPad. My phone, as usual, had been put to the side. I remember hearing what sounded like the buzz of a new email, which I didn’t check. Then I heard the worker at the counter ask someone if they had “gotten the message.” I looked at my phone and saw the the message from 8:07 am in all caps and ending “this is not a drill.”
I had no idea what to do. I’d left a movie theater for a tsunami warning. I’d put up plywood for a hurricane warning. I’d experienced an earthquake. But a ballistic missile alert? That’s something from the worst of my 1980s-fueled imagination, really. So I took my coffee and backpack and headed for Ala Moana Center, which was across the street. I wasn’t sure if it was all that safe, really. As I walked, I pointed out the phone message to others who had not heard anything. I came across a group of workers leaving their not-yet-opened story. Still not knowing where to go (and knowing that getting back home wasn’t an option), I stopped and spoke to a couple of bus drivers waiting on instructions from their office. And then, just after speaking to a couple of tourists at a bus stop, I made my way over to the new gym that just opened by the new Target.
Along the way I got a phone call from a friend and co-worker checking on me. I think I got a call in to my landlady. At some point long the walk, phone service stopped working. So I was glad to get a FaceTime call from a friend while waiting in the gym to see what would happen next. I couldn’t find anything of consequence online or with Twitter. The lady next to me, though, eventually said something about a false alarm. We looked it up and there it was. Others around the lobby confirmed what she had found. We quietly dispersed and went back to our Saturday mornings.
I went back to the coffee shop, grabbed a small coffee, and used my phone to look online for different responses (mostly Twitter, as I’d removed the Facebook app from my phone couple of years ago). Lots of confusion. Anger, too. After a while I made my way over to Barnes and Noble, reflecting on what had (and had not) just happened. On my way from there, I ran into a few friends, who still seemed to be processing things as well.
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Sunday brought a couple of different church services, a couple of different conversations. It brought more news, more processing things from a national perspective. My own Twitter feed (the people I follow) didn’t have much to say about the alert at all. Finally Rod Dreher posted a hypothetical-question that used the alert as a springboard for others to question what they would have done had they been a part of the situation. Most of the humor from almost every source was rooted in relief. One pastor I heard, after finishing the bulk of his sermon, took a small digression to share from his own experience. It was, perhaps, the most comforting and challenging thing I had heard.
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I’ve learned some things about myself over the last couple of days. I’ve realized some things worth un-learning. And I continue to learn more about what it means to live a single life, somehow rooted in the Christian faith, far away from family and a deep history. It’s been a reminder of the kind of “sitting duck” existence all of us live, some more than others, each in our own times and ways. And if I let Him, God will use it to continue showing me a better way.