I may have watched a man die today at Napili Bay. Even on vacation reality intrudes, especially for the man and his family. I hope he lived. I’ll know what I read The Maui News tomorrow. What I do know now is that it is possible to die on a beach, relaxing in Hawaii, with not a care in the world. Until…
A burly fellow vacationer is pressing on your chest, doing CPR, while another man is rhythmically blowing air into your mouth. Your face is ashen. Your body is motionless. Waves break over your feet. But you can’t feel the water.
I was sitting under our favorite beach tree on a grass mat, watching kids playing in the surf, hoping that the waves would reach body-board riding height, happy that it wasn’t raining, just cloudy and threatening. I was so into my practice of wu-wei, not-doing, that at first the sight of a bunch of adults clustered around a spot of beach about forty yards to my left didn’t register. My mind even thought, “Maybe they’re having fun burying someone in the sand.”
Sadly, the “burying” part was uncomfortably close to the truth. When I trained my binoculars on all the activity I could see CPR being performed. It was jarring to listen to children having fun in the surf while I watched the solemn efforts to save the man’s life.
Soon, a siren. Medics from the fire department rushed to the man’s side. One felt his neck for a pulse. Defibrillation equipment was hastily unpacked. Paddles were placed on his chest. A ventilator went over his mouth. An intravenous drip went into his right arm. Hopefully all this effort paid off. I never saw the man move, nor any signs of relief from the medics or bystanders.
He was a big man, chunky. I couldn’t help but observe that most of the men who had come to his aid were similarly overweight. One beachgoer who helped carry the stretcher across the sand to the ambulance was positively obese. His stomach fat flapped as he struggled forward, carrying the front of the stretcher. Will these men change their under-exercising, over-eating ways now that they’ve seen how a heart attack (which I assume is what happened) can strike anywhere, anytime?
Probably not. We all have our ways of denying death. Good ways. Effective ways. I do too. Until I see death close-up through a pair of Nikon binoculars, imagining myself lying in the sand, unconscious, having my chest compressed while my wife looks on with terrified eyes.
She seemed to be his wife, at least. And the younger woman, his daughter. While the medics were getting him ready to be transported two policemen got out report books and took statements from the women. The women obviously were torn, one part of them wanting to respond to the police questions, another part trying to remain aware of what was being done to save the husband’s/father’s life.
After he was taken up the slope of the beach to the ambulance, the women rushed around picking up the remnants of what had started out as a happy day on Maui. Towels, suntan lotion, drink containers—everything got hurriedly wrapped up in their beach mats. They half-ran after the police. Suddenly there was no trace of what had happened.
Just a empty patch of beach.
Laurel walked down from our condo soon after. She had missed everything. She told me all about her morning’s shopping experiences. I related my dying-man-on-the-beach story.
I soon forgot about him. I waited for big body-boardable waves that never came. I went for my daily 30-minute swim. We went back to our room and ate lunch. I read my Jack Reacher thriller, “Without Fail.” I took my afternoon Maui nap.
Everything is back to normal. Except, really, it isn’t. Ever. It can’t be when “normal” is just one heartbeat, a single breath, from simply being a meaningless word.
A dying man on the beach convinced me of that. As if I needed to be convinced.