It seems like a joke but for a solid 38 minutes, my classmates and I sincerely believed we were about to die. 

At 8:08 a.m. Saturday Jan. 13, I was lying in bed when a buzzing startled my phone. A message in all caps blared across the screen warning me of an impending ballistic missile on track for Hawai’i. It didn’t make any sense. I didn’t believe it. 

Half a second later, a loud banging shook the walls. I heard a panicked yell, and leapt out of bed faster than I ever thought possible. My suite mates — with whom I shared a connecting door — were pounding on the walls, doors, anything to get our attention. We met them out in the hallway, their faces red and tears streaming. 

“The basement. We need to get to the basement,” said my suite mate, senior Sarah Carpenter. We raced down the stairs and managed to find our way down. My heart pounding against my ribcage — I couldn’t tell whether it was from the running or the sheer panic. Soon enough, the rest of my classmates and our professors trickled down into the basement to join us. 

People were breaking down in bathrooms, strained phone calls home, bones locked in place, tear-streaked faces — it was a sight I hope I never have to see again. 

After a solid 15-20 minutes, we were finally notified that the alert was a false alarm. Someone had simply pressed the wrong button. It was a mistake — a mistake that sent an entire state into a panic. 

The room breaks out into a nervous laugh. Our professors postpone our class time, giving us time to recollect our thoughts. As we walk out of the room to go back to our own, I heard Jan Rivero cracking a joke. 

“First thing I did when I saw that alert was brush my teeth,” Jan said. “If I’m gonna die, I at least want to have clean teeth.” 

In creative writing, professors say readers may not remember what you say, but they remember exactly how you make them feel. I don’t know if I can explain the absolute to the bone, at my core, pure fear. But it’s an emotion that I don’t think I can ever forget. 

Fortunately, our schedule that day was light, but none of us were feeling up to it. And that morning was all anyone could talk about. The vendors, shoppers, street performers — even the restaurant we grabbed lunch at — was filled with talk of the almost near-death experience. 

The sad truth is that this is the world we live in. The way the United States is progressing, fear is becoming a part of our daily diet. Natural disasters, the potential of a third world war, the rise and empowerment of hate groups — all hanging over our heads. 

If this poisonous back-and-forth between our so-called president and North Korea escalates, the same fear the state of Hawai’i felt will spread to the entirety of the United States. And because of Hawaii’s location, they’re at risk more than any state on the mainland. It’s unfortunate seeing as how the United States illegally occupied their land, and native Hawaiians want nothing more than to be their own nation, but that’s another column. 

The “Hawai’i: Nation or State” Study USA course is not a vacation. I’ve spent more time getting my hands dirty than I have lying on a beach drinking a piña colada. I’ve learned about a people whose culture is being desecrated, whose land is being stripped from them, who can’t afford to live in the homes their ancestors made for them. 

Imagine a group of foreigners coming in and turning your home into a tourist destination. Imagine being banned from speaking your native language. Imagine all your traditions buried and culture destroyed. That’s the truth of what’s happening on Hawai’i. And the worst part is that I’m helpless to stop it. 

After expressing our helplessness to John and Jamaica Osorio, they told us something I know will stick with me for the rest of my life. The word “kuleana” in Hawaiian means responsibility — to our land, our family, our friends, to the world around us. They said the best thing we can do for the people of Hawai’i is take the lessons we’ve learned and apply them to our own lives — figure out our kuleana. 

In this 2018 midterm election year, my kuleana is to vote. Yes, the presidential election matters, but the midterm elections matter so much more. Historically, the president’s party loses. According to NBCnews, Democrats only need 2 seats to flip the senate and 24 to flip the House. Challenging, but not impossible. Stagnation in the United States is incredibly dangerous. We need change. We need to vote. 

I refuse to feel so helpless again, especially in the wake of this false missile alarm. I refuse to ever accept my fate again. I refuse to sit by and watch the opportunity to affect change pass by. I can only hope the rest of the United States feels the same.