Molly and I were watching The Stanford Prison Experiment on Netflix yesterday afternoon when my cellphone rang. It was my son Henry, who’s in the Navy and stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
“Something really terrible just happened,” Henry said. There was a ragged edge to his voice that told me this was not a normal phone call. I used my free hand to wave at Molly — pause the movie, pay attention, something’s wrong. Henry had called, of course, to tell me about the ballistic missile threat warning broadcast to Hawaii’s cell phones.
After a round of I-love-yous, we got to business: Who sent the warning? What did the warning say, exactly? (Every word of it an ominous horror, especially: “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”) I asked Molly to google the warning; surely, if it were real, there would be a story somewhere. There were stories, but they mainly expressed only alarm and confusion. No details, nobody knew what was going on. I did my best to reassure Henry, and myself: Maybe somebody hacked into the system? “THIS IS NOT A DRILL” notwithstanding — maybe it was only a drill? Maybe it was a mistake. And anyway, we have missile defense systems. We’ll shoot it down. Won’t we?
These raw moments ended, mercifully, with Molly discovering the Hawaii Emergency Management tweet that read, “NO missile threat to Hawaii,” and Henry pausing our call to take a call from the Navy, in which they announced the missile alert was an error. When Henry reported what the Navy said, my relief was so great I got a case of the giggles.
I spent the rest of yesterday wondering how many other families endured trauma like ours. One minute I sat snug in my home, enjoying a movie while the tail end of Winter Storm Hunter dragged itself eastward; the next I was frantic, imagining the worst, thinking I might be bearing remote witness to Henry’s last moments on earth.
These days you can’t help but feel a little Henny Penny about things. After all, in December Hawaii sounded its nuclear warning sirens for the first time since the 1980s, and Trump gleefully bragged about the size of his ‘nuclear button’ not even two weeks ago. Since then, there’s been a run on potassium iodide pills. The White House response to yesterday’s false alarm didn’t help matters. Oh, and our missile defense system is far from a sure thing. We’re all feeling a lot on edge, lately.
The sky is falling. The sky is falling. Let’s hope we’re as wrong about that as Henny Penny was, and that we live to tell the tale.