We all must die. That much is certain. But a little over a week ago, Jeff Hadden was pretty sure he knew the time, place and manner of his own death.
The level-headed, unflappable president and owner of Phoenix Printing in Augusta was on a Hawaiian beach on a beautiful morning during a trip to settle an aunt’s estate Jan. 13 – at the very moment the infamous incoming-missile alert was broadcast.
Instantly he was transported from a post-workout walk in paradise into the middle of a disaster movie – complete with running, screaming, panicking pedestrians all around him.
In fact, that cinematic scene was his first clue that anything was amiss; he’d left his cellphone in his hotel room some two blocks away, and had to stop one of the frantic passersby to ask what was going on. The passerby showed Hadden the now-notorious cellphone alert from Hawaii’s bungling Emergency Management Agency:
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
No one – not the islands’ permanent residents, and certainly not a visitor from Augusta – had any reason at all to think otherwise.
In short, Hadden truly thought he was going to die.
As others jumped into manholes, crashed against each other in chaotic intersections and gathered by the scores in his hotel lobby, Hadden confirmed the alert with the concierge and ran up 10 flights of stairs to wake up his wife, Roxanne.
He’d been told that if he didn’t have time to make it back downstairs – the missile was expected within minutes – that they should lie in their tub and cover themselves.
Hadden wrote text messages to his children telling them he loved them – and essentially saying goodbye.
Thankfully, a jammed-up cell system blocked the alarming texts – for, as we all now know, and Hadden learned by placing one more skeptical call to the hotel’s front desk, it was a disastrous false alarm.
But Hadden, who is still a bit shaken by what amounted to a near-death experience, wasn’t completely convinced until the civil defense agency corrected itself over half an hour after its frightening alert.
At that point, Hadden wanted only to get home to the Garden City and his family and friends. The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy was right, he says: There’s no place like home.
“Let me tell you, that’s real, man,” he said.
After dealing with the recent deaths of his dad and nephew, this was the last thing Jeff Hadden either needed or deserved. No one did. But as he continues processing the very real but surreal trauma, a tsunami of grace and gratitude has washed over him as he feels at peace with God and at home with his circle of love.
He now knows what it’s like for people who realize they’re about to die in a plane crash or other disaster – except that he has, happily, gone on living.
Not everyone was so lucky: At least one man is reported to have died from a massive heart attack during the incident.
“You don’t take life for granted anymore,” Hadden says.
It shouldn’t take the shadow of a missile for that to happen.