Staff Opinion: Never leave without saying goodbye

By Elizabeth Lyons-Best | November 12, 2018 9:26pm
Beacon photographer Elizabeth Lyons-Best shares how a traumatizing experience taught her that life is unpredictable and you can't take it for granted.
Media Credit: Annika Gordon / The Beacon

On Jan. 13, 2018 at 6:30 a.m., my alarm went off. Waking up this early on a weekend is very rare, considering I love “beauty rest;” however, I had to make it to my basketball game.

I put on my uniform, threw my hair in a ponytail then grabbed my water and bag. I usually hug my family before going anywhere, except today everyone was sleeping and I figured I would see them in an hour. I let them sleep. 

I was cruising down the H1, listening to Jason Mraz and admiring how beautifully the sun hit the Honolulu skyscrapers. Winning my basketball game was my only care in the world.

Moments later, my mom called. “Hello?” For a few seconds I thought it was an accident because everything was muffled. “Elizabeth. Where are you?!” 

I was confused, so I chuckled, “On my way to the gym, why?” Before I finished, she told me to take shelter. I only saw a rundown Jiffy Lube. 

Then she said words I never wish for anyone to ever hear. “We just got an alert on our phones, it says ‘EMERGENCY ALERT: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.’ Get to the gym and run inside.” My mind went blank.

A few minutes later, I got to the gym. I stayed on the phone with my family. When I saw my teammates walking over to my car, I yelled at them to run inside. When we got inside the gym, many people were crying. Others tried to broadcast the news on their phone, but most sat in shock. People walking the streets of the city were piling into the gym to try and receive any type of cover that they could. 

A freshman on my team began sobbing because her mom would not answer the phone. I ran to her, with my phone in one hand and my other arm wrapped around her. It had been over ten minutes, but I still hadn’t shed a tear even though I thought we were going to die. Over the phone, my parents were praying with me. 

Then, I heard, “Can I talk to sissy?” It was my seven-year-old sister. At that point, I went to the bleachers and hugged my knees. “Hi, Sissy. Are you okay?” I assured her that I loved her but she started to cry. This was the moment that tears filled my eyes, and it was real. 

Nothing mattered except my family on the other side of the island. I was never going to see them again. The basketball game did not matter. Social media, status, grades, all the first world problems I had earlier, meant nothing. All that mattered was being on the phone with my family.

It took 38 minutes for a follow up alert to explain the false alarm. Those 38 minutes were complete chaos. 

We still played the game that day. When I saw my family at half time, I gave them the biggest hug ever. We all cried. That night I watched the best sunset I have ever seen. Not because it was the most beautiful, but because I actually saw it.

I am not going to sit here and write about how I don’t care about first-world problems anymore since then. I still sometimes fall into my selfish ways of allowing myself to be consumed by things that do not matter. But at the end of the day, I can look back and realize the importance of life.

If you take anything away from this, it should be that you should hug your loved ones a little tighter next time you see them. This world is unpredictable and life can change in a split second. Take the quality times you have and make them worthwhile, and never leave without saying goodbye.

Elizabeth Lyons-Best is a photographer at The Beacon and can be reached at