Sunday, January 14, 2018

Defining Moment?

This was the message on C's phone!

I was in center city early yesterday afternoon, in line at Starbucks, when I checked my phone. Two missed calls from my sister C in Honolulu. A little unusual, as we try to always time our calls to one another in advance, but not unheard of. Then I got the text: We just got alert of inbound missile. It says not a test. I immediately started shaking, and stepped out of line. Sheer panic set in; as I tried to call her, I blanked out on the last four digits of her phone number. By the time I reached her, she had good news: it had all been a mistake. But she described the horrific previous few minutes, trying to call all of us, possibly to say goodbye; apparently everyone in Hawaii had the same idea, because the calls weren’t going through. As for me, during the few moments before I talked to her, everything else on my mind diminished in importance to nothingness. Who cared about meetings, or deadlines, or annoyances at work or home? Nothing mattered as much as my sister’s survival. This dread was coupled with another: if we were indeed on the brink of nuclear war, how would any of us survive?

As we all know now, the terrifying message had been sent out in error; there was no missile heading to Oahu yesterday. But even as relief washed over me, I recognized that the message was all too credible. We are not only capable of the world’s destruction, but powerful people with access to nuclear weapons seem to be taunting each other into action. I am aware that existence has always been fragile, but that doesn’t minimize the risks and threats facing humanity right now.

Riding home on the train, I thought: how would I occupy myself if we suddenly had only a few minutes left to live? Would I fall to my knees, praying nonstop until the end? Make farewell phone calls: my children living away from me, my sister, my dearest friends? After that, would I gather my beloved Oreland family and just hold on to them? Yes! I often say that my faith, the loss of my sister Mo, and being with Mom as she passed away, have made me largely unafraid of death. But yesterday reminded me that I am still fearful. I am also saddened that life on earth may possibly not continue through Aiden and Peter’s old age.

It may go out with a bang, or a whimper, or something in between, but at some point life WILL end, for everyone. That point may be millions of years from now, or fifteen minutes. So may I try to live in love, the love that casts out fear. May I try to spread peace and understanding, in the hope that all of us doing so may prolong our time here.

I will never forget the sinking feeling I had in the coffee shop yesterday, but may it not define me.

My favorite picture of C and me


  1. Elise, I cannot imagine what you were feeling, but then I can; you made it so vivid. I sometimes feel something similar when I hear about things going on in Israel, where two of my three children live, but the threat of a missile zooming toward our shores is a far cry from isolated incidents in parts of the city where one’s children live. Disturbing as human error of this magnitude can be, I’m so happy that it was all a mistake and that your sister is OK.

    1. Thank you so much, Casey! It was a very scary few minutes!!