38 Minutes


Black sand beaches, impossibly blue skies, waving palm trees, soaring green volcanic mountains…


The emergency alert system screeched across my cell phone at just after 8 am. I was in my ship’s stateroom, docked in Honolulu, ready to disembark after a relaxing ten day cruise to Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and Kauai.


I read it aloud to my husband. “Did you see this?” The problem with this emergency alert was that it was totally believable. There was no doubt where the missile was coming from – North Korea – and it was heading toward Hawaii. Paradise.

We quickly gathered our things and left the cabin. Some people were in the hallway, looking worried. “Did you see the alert?” “Yes.” We kept on walking.

What does “immediate shelter” mean on a 4,000 passenger cruise ship? My husband insisted on Deck Three, the furthest down that we were familiar with on the ship. I insisted on Deck Five, where all the people were presently disembarking at a snail’s pace. Stay inside – yes – but be near an exit.

The people were surprisingly calm as we waited for instructions from the Captain. No one had even acknowledged the emergency alert yet over the loudspeaker system.

I thought of calling my son back on the East Coast, but I knew he hardly ever answered his phone and never accepted voice mails. So I called his wife instead. Sure enough, she answered. Was there anything on the news yet? No, but she would look into it. I hung up and called my sister and quickly interrupted her “Aloha” greeting to tell her what was happening and to ask her to light a candle. Pray for all of us.

My daughter-in-law started sending screen shots of Twitter feeds going across the country about the alert. Finally a member of the ship’s crew announced that no one could leave the ship. The security guards at the door yelled for the people outside to either come back in or get moving. Then they shut the doors.

We were sheltered in place on a cruise ship in Hawaii while an ICBM made its way toward us.

It was 38 minutes before another emergency alert came across the phone announcing it was a false alarm.

38 minutes.

Not much time to make your final phone calls to say I love you. Not much time to say your final good-byes.

It wasn’t until later when the national news picked up on the story that I realized that it only takes 20 minutes for a missile to reach Hawaii from North Korea. Naturally, I assumed that Honolulu would be its target. How ironic that Pearl Harbor might be attacked yet a second time…

The ship’s passengers breathed a collective, audible sigh of relief. False alarm. Some nervous laughter, but subdued.

But the threat had been very real for a very long 38 minutes.

How must people live in the war-torn countries, where they live in fear every moment of every day? Where they make daily sacrifices just to survive another bombing, another ambush, another attack?

I can’t imagine that life. After all, I only had to get through a finite 38 minutes. They live a lifetime of constant hyper vigilance, always at risk, always in danger. Living in constant fear.

And I only suffered through 38 minutes.

Bless them. Keep them safe. Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me.