For the last couple of years, I have mostly kept my comments on Facebook to my day-to-day activities and reactions to the events in the lives of the people I care about. I love seeing their family photos, weddings, vacations, weather concerns, and pets. My thoughts about politics have been channelled into Twitter and sometimes this blog.
Yesterday, though, theoretical politics became very real and crossed over into my family life. I met up with my niece to go shopping, but when I first saw her she was shaking and crying. She had just got off the phone with her sister-in-law who lives in Hawaii, and who had been explaining the details of her will and her wishes for her children. She had just spent thirty-five minutes living with the shock and horror of a warning of impending nuclear attack. The message on her cell phone said:
The same message was crawling across the bottom of her TV screen. My niece and I confronted that awful possibility for only a few minutes before we got the message that this was a false alarm. Our loved ones in Hawaii, though, had been forced to confront the concept of the end of their lives for thirty-five long minutes.
My niece and I were astounded that a false alarm of this magnitude was even possible, but we also reflected on fears we had expressed weeks ago about the possibility of nuclear war. We realized that fearing that something is possible does not compare to being confronted with the reality of a “THIS IS NOT A DRILL” warning. Suddenly, we were thinking about our own plans for the end of life, where we might shelter, whether or not our wills were up-to-date, and what we would do and who we would call if we knew this was going to be the end.
Finding out that it was a false alarm was a relief for us, and a much bigger one for everyone in Hawaii. It’s surprising how quickly we adjusted to that news and were able to do our shopping together, but we both had a lingering sense that something life-changing had just happened. My niece’s sister-in-law went out for a long walk to recover from the anxiety and posted pictures on Facebook of the wonderful views she enjoyed. Those clear skies were not just pretty; they showed an absence of impending doom. They showed peace.
The news media today are debating the significance of this false alarm from various angles, but for me it will always be about seeing my niece standing in a parking lot, shaking and crying. It was personal.
I normally try to steer clear of contentious issues on Facebook because the people I love don’t all share the same philosophies of life. I don’t always agree with their views on the ways the world and our nations should work, but I always want to be a part of their lives.
Mostly, I just don’t want to argue with them. I’ve never really learned how to debate effectively or to argue without feeling personally attacked. The people who know me best know where I stand, and we mostly just leave it at that. Now, though, I’m rethinking our unspoken detente. Some things are just too important not to discuss, even if it’s difficult. Perhaps, especially if it is difficult.