Roy Exum: This Is Not A Drill

Friday, January 19, 2018 - by Roy Exum

Last Saturday morning in paradise, at 8:07 to be precise, an alert appeared on every cell phone that read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

I can envision no greater horror than having to ask myself how much time do I have, and what is the wisest way to spend it? It was a long and dreadful 38 minutes until the correction came last week, but what if it hadn’t? During my life I heard a lot and seen a lot and regretted a lot and prayed a lot. Several nights ago, around 2 a.m, I found myself in one of those quiet awake moments in the pitch-black night when I can both think and listen. When a disaster is imminent, I believe the best thing for any of us to do is stop, to be completely still. Breath, smell the air. Listen. Adjust. It takes only a minute or two for me to form an expeditious plan that has two branches -- I want to be ready if I hear a big boom or, I want to be ready to laugh and praise the Lord for keeping us safe. I am convinced every plan must include two results. Win or lose, I want a plan for either path.

Long ago I learned that even the simplest plan helps keep me calm. If you panic, you lose control, and if you lose control, the chances of your death are greatly increased. It is a fact of primal life that ‘a failure to plan is a plan to fail.’ Anyone can do it in seconds. Barring immediate danger, search your heart and follow it. Make a plan and stick to it. You can alter it, but for God’s sake have a purpose about what you are going to do right now. Then move very fast. In almost every case, your “best guess” will remain your best guess. In Rudyard Kipling’s great poem “If,” (probably my favorite poem of all time,) it begins, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too ...”

Forget calling anyone; seconds following last week’s colossal mistake in Hawaii the cellular system crashed. My first thoughts would be my family. But what? I have 30 minutes and my family is many zip codes away. So, very calmly, I would fetch an aged cigar, a heavy splash of really good whiskey, and email my sister, my children and others who I have loved “agape” (totally, no strings attached.) Some years ago I had a tussle with death and there are two things that will always be vivid in my mind.

To begin, nothing material matters –zero. When the circulation leaves your arms and legs, an unimaginable cold replaces the feeling in your extremities. As your circulation shuts off, it is a paralyzing like you’ve never known nor will ever be able to fully describe that takes place but, as I remember, it doesn’t hurt at all. I also remember that whether or not you paid the electric bill is the farthest thing from your mind. Trust me here -- dying is absolutely painless.

No, after the final innings you feel like you are suspended in an mid-air state where the only thing you feel is the love you have been graced with from so many. I know this is corny but, please, it is indeed your warmest blanket. I pray you will never experience it, but the moment you do it will become the signature moment of your entire life. I promise, you’ll see every person who in is your heart – and the surprise is how many your heart holds -- and it is the most magical experience of your life. Yes, there is a serenity that makes the pain disappear and a deep, deep peace. You are not remorseful, saddened, but the look in another’s eyes confirms the undefinable love to you have between you. Yes, there are many you love. Men, women, young, old and it is though all is right with the world.

But there is a down-side. As you sing your death song, there is an immeasurable thirst that while you revere the so many who have walked that extra mile with you, the need for forgive is unquenchable. You want to plead with so many who you have absolutely to beg, “I Am Sorry.”

When I had my ICU moment I felt horribly guilty about the fact that I was desperate to apologize that I had fallen short to so many of my most beloved friends. Since then, I have learned during wonderful conversations I have had with fellow strugglers who cheated The Grim Reaper, trust this -- the wish for forgiveness is almost universal. I stand on solid ground with my Jesus, as John 3:16 assures me that mortal death ain’t no more than a hiccup. Oh, I might toss up a prayer to watch over the grandchildren but – with just 30 minutes left -- I’d hurry to my computer and leave the only thing that matters after I croak: my last words, typing as fast as I could until I couldn’t.

“This is not goodbye, just so long till next time.”

Cynthia Manley, the mother of two daughters going to college on the mainland, is a highly-sought motivational speaker living in Hawaii and the blaring cell phone message on Saturday morning, began a nightmare. Here is an excerpt of what she wrote on her blog:

* * *


[Note: The top three concerns of those instructed “This is not a drill” in Hawaii last Saturday were 1. Family, 2. Family, 3. Family.  Here is an excerpt from Cynthia Manley, who still hasn’t fully recovered from the shock.]

“I stood in my bedroom for what seemed like too long, then walked into the living room -- staring at my windows -- wondering how long we all had, where to go, what to do.

“Although I had attended workshops and read pamphlets on what to do in a nuclear attack, so many things rushed through my head.

“Once I realized that it would be nearly impossible to prepare in the short amount of time (anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes) I decided the best thing to do would be to send messages to my daughters.

“I especially wanted to send a message to Alyssa, who just started college at the University of Southern California. As a freshman, I didn’t want her life to stop if something happened to me. The similarity to my childhood was uncanny. I had lost my mom in a tragic death when I was a teenager. If she had left me words of encouragement and a “roadmap” I would have followed it.

“So that is what I wanted for my kids. I started creating a roadmap of what I wanted them to accomplish and to describe how I wanted them to move forward no matter what happened to me.

“I sent texts to both of them so that if the missile hit quickly at least they would have something to read, to remember.

“I wrote to my oldest daughter Alanna, who is a student at Seattle University, “If this is the end, stay strong and no matter what happens take care of you and sis. Find a way to get to California and be together soon and be a family. I love you so much.”

“To my youngest daughter at college in California I messaged her, “No matter what happens, get your degree! Have a good life and be successful! And take care of your sister.”

“I started on a plan via ‘a shared Google doc’ so that at least my kids would have a chance to read it in case all our belongings were obliterated in the attack.

“My roadmap included much of what a will would include, but mine dug a little deeper. It went on to share details of what to expect in life, how to manage financial concerns, marriage, divorce, priorities, and most of all, how to move forward no matter what happened to me in Hawaii.

“Thank God I didn’t have to share that roadmap with them within the terrifying 15-30 minutes that we thought we had left. Thirty-eight minutes after the first alert Hawaii received another text alert that the message was a false alarm. Neighbors and friends were crying at the relief that it was not the end.  Many of us already knew it was a false alarm -- we had contacted people we knew in law enforcement or the government who had confirmed it was a false alarm.

“But the possibility still lingers in everyone’s minds, especially those of us here in Hawaii.

“Living with the idea that, ‘it could happen’ creates additional stress in a place where we should all be focused on aloha and not seeking shelter from a nuclear attack.

“What happened in Hawaii gives us all reason to reflect on what is really important in life, and how we can continue to strengthen our relationships with family and friends.  And, instead of waiting until there is a natural disaster or nuclear threat to give my kids a roadmap of life, I’m giving them this gift now so they can prepare for their futures.  They may not follow it, but at least they will know mom loved them enough to help them have a better life.”

* * *


Dallas and Monica Carter were getting their five children up for breakfast when the warning came and instantly the breakfast table became a prayer spot for the Catholic family. Later that Saturday morning the Diocese of Honolulu and many other churches were so full some worshiped outside. When the warning came, Dallas rushed from the house to look in on some elderly neighbors. As he rushed back, Carter found that Monica had put the family’s Our Lady of Guadalupe statue in the center of their breakfast table, and all of the kids were praying the rosary.

One child, 11-year-old Maria told the Catholic News Agency, he wondered what was going on when younger brother woke her up. “I literally just wanted to pray, I wanted to pray. I concentrated so hard on the rosary,” she added. “I was like ‘Come on, Mary! I know you can do this!’”

* * *

“C’mon on, Mary! I know you can do this!”

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