I'm new to blogging, new to being so visible, new to asking people to actually view my work and comment on it. As I said in my first-ever-post, it took some doing to find the courage and resolve to click Publish on my blog page. So what changed?
After a year or so of thinking about blogging, what was the impetus that led me to compose a new river story for myself, and give myself over to that new, unpredictable and mysterious flow?
It is this: In February, I experienced something both terrifying and profoundly transformative. It awakened me to the imperative I now feel to make my voice heard, to become visible in a way I've never felt brave enough to do before now.
I've been given what feels like a second chance, and I am determined not to squander it.
Many, if not most, of you have read news accounts of the event I describe below. Still, I thought I'd include a sort of trigger warning: This is an intimate, detailed account of what I consider a near-death experience... one which was shared by over a million of us in the Islands. This post draws from my journaling in the immediate aftermath.
While it is not my intention to upset anyone, some readers may find this account awakens something in them that may feel disquieting or uncomfortable.
If this happens, breathe. Then keep breathing... and reading. Because if you are reading this, you are alive.
And if you are alive, then you have the opportunity to notice what is truly important to you in your life, and to choose to honor it.
It is my hope that you will be able to let this in, and that this account will be of service to you, not just when that last moment comes, but in your life now.
On Saturday, January 13, 2018, the final day of my week-long visit to Honolulu, I was sipping coffee with my friends in their kitchen. At a little after 8am, we received the following message on our mobile phones:
"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL".
Confusion. Reading it again. Then again.
Then, it started to sink in: Ballistic missiles. This is not a drill.
For a long moment my friends and I just stared at our phones. Our eyes rose from the screens, meeting one another's with the same disbelief: "Not a drill"?
My friends' home is a mere 14 miles from Pearl Harbor, headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet.
Seek shelter? Is this a joke? Is there really anywhere to shelter in Honolulu that won't be annihilated in a nuclear attack?
I felt a hot-cold-hot-cold sensation through my body that I've never felt before, and it was awful. The sensation was my self, my ego, recognizing that it was about to end; realizing that, in a few moments, what I know as "I" would no longer be.
I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. I was terrified.
I always hoped I could be brave.
I confess, I think about my own death sometimes, wondering what it would be like, and how I would be with the moments and events leading up to it. Maybe you know what I mean.
Not in a morbid way, but… curious. Wondering.
I always hoped I could be brave, and imagined I probably could. Or at least, I could be at peace when my moment came. I could be... okay with it.
But in that moment, that Saturday, I did not feel brave and I certainly wasn't at peace. I couldn't even breathe.
I felt like I was falling. My thoughts, loud through the blood beating in my ears and with a force that surprised me:
I don't want to die. Not today. Not yet.
What has my life amounted to?
Not enough. My life hasn't been enough.
I need more time!
I remember suddenly exhaling, as if I'd hit bottom after a long drop. And then inhaling with a gasp.
As we looked wide-eyed at each other, I felt my own heart stir: At least I'm here with people I love, and who love me.
Hello, Heart. I'm glad you're here with me, too.
One of my friends broke the spell. "We have fifteen minutes to get ready", she said in a soft, firm voice.
As her words sank in, she instructed me to quickly close all the windows in the house, then turned to her partner to divvy up other tasks.
Thank goodness. Something to do.
I didn't ask why. I just busied myself closing windows.
On auto pilot, I raise the shades, averting my eyes from the outside. I crank the window closed, then lower the shades. Raise, crank, lower. Raise crank, lower.
The house has many, many windows, but I wished for it to have more.
15 minutes is a bloody long time to be waiting for the end of me.
It feels at once too long, and not long enough.
If I could just raise-crank-lower until the end came, I would be all right. I could avoid looking outside, so I won't see what is coming.
Yes, if it happens while I'm doing this, I think could bear it.
My heart is beating so fast, and questions are stumbling over themselves, tumbling into my awareness:
How do I want to leave this life? In what state of heart-mind?
What am I leaving behind?
Raise, crank, lower. Raise crank, lower.
As I cranked all those windows closed, my numbness was replaced by a flood of feelings. I could not have imagined a feeling worse than fear of annihilation, but there it was, like a punch in the solar plexus:
I'm so disappointed with my life. I haven't done what I came here to do.
I’ve wasted my life.
I need more time.
I felt ashamed. To have wasted my one and only precious life. How could I have let that happen?
I heard myself actually moan out loud. Ungh. And there was nothing to do but keep closing windows.
I kept at my task until - too soon - there were no more windows to close. I rejoined my friends. With pale, grim faces we checked our phones obsessively for updates. Surely, there was a mistake. Tell us it was a mistake!
We gathered items for the shelter under the house. The space is cement on all sides, ceiling and floor. It looked so solid, secure.
But could this survive a nuclear attack? Or would it come down on top of us?
Will I die in the dark under a pile of rubble?
Maybe I should just stand outside so it will be over quickly.
Please, let it be quick.
I don't want to suffer.
The dog, cowering in his bed with muzzle on paws, watched the activity; only his eyes moved. The cat was somewhere we couldn't see her.
My hands were busy, but my mind was trying to find the words to tell my friends I wouldn't be going into the shelter with them.
The alert turned out to be a false alarm. But we wouldn't know that until about a half hour after the message went out.
When the retraction did finally come across our phones, it felt like everyone in Hawaii exhaled all at once.
Our activity abruptly stopped. I sat down at the kitchen counter beside the cold remains of my coffee.
The world outside looked no different from the way it did a three quarters of an hour ago. The sun shone innocently in a smooth blue sky with puffy white clouds.
Barely missing a beat in their activity, my friends gathered their things and headed out the door to a rendezvous with friends, now delayed 45 minutes or so. We hugged and said our goodbyes, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
I sat in the quiet stillness, glad to be alone with my jumbled feelings. The only outward evidence that something had just happened was in the breaking news and tweets online, and the cars beginning to move again, tentatively, on the roads.
But everything inside me had shifted, and would continue to do so for… well, it continues to shift.
I have been given a second chance.
Revelation Must Be Terrible
Revelation must be
terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.
Imagine that moment
staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor
of your body to say
you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.
Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world
you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now
and the world steps in
to test the calm fluidity of your body
from moment to moment
as if it believed you could join
its vibrant dance
of fire and calmness and final stillness.
As if you were meant to be exactly
where you are, as if
like the dark branch of a desert river
you could flow on without a speck
of guilt and everything
everywhere would still be just as it should be.
As if your place in the world mattered
and the world could
neither speak nor hear the fullness of
its own bitter and beautiful cry
without the deep well
of your body resonating in the echo.
Knowing that it takes only
that one, terrible
word to make the circle complete,
revelation must be terrible
knowing you can
never hide your voice again.
— David Whyte
from Fire in the Earth
©1992 Many Rivers Press