Diane Phillips: The finest line of all – the last breath

The finest line of all – the last breath

By Diane Phillips

An old friend died this week. His death was not the saddest part of the story, the end of his life was. Once a man so vibrant and full of life that when he walked into a room, he displaced everything else. He was a bit on the loud side, maybe due to a slight hearing loss, or maybe he would have been anyway. He had a way of engaging everyone. Go to dinner with him and his wife and he’d put the server at ease instantly, ordering a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and grinning, before ordering the thickest steak and heartiest red wine on the menu.

He relished every experience from the sunsets of Exuma where he lived to the Philly cheese steak sandwich of his childhood. Over the decades, his marketing genius probably helped draw more second home owners to The Bahamas than any other single individual. In conversation, he never cared whether someone had a Ph.D. or could swing a hammer and pound a nail, just so long as either way, they did the best job they could.

A few years ago, he had a stroke. Smaller strokes followed. Words got mashed, thoughts scrambled, TV was too confusing to watch. When he died in a Florida hospice on Sunday, he was little more than a frail skeleton of a once vibrant 240-pounder. He was not the man we all knew whose voice roared and laughter roared even louder. In the end he was the silent one ready to slip out of this world.

What his death drove home was that we don’t dwell on the decline though most all of us have known someone who could have used more of our attention as they were beginning their downward slide. We dwell instead of that single flicker of a moment between breathing and not, the instant in life we call death. We dwell on the finest line of all, the last time the heart beats.

Every year, 57 million people die. Twice that number are born, or were born in the last year for which we have reliable global statistics, 2015. That means that around the world, the equivalent of one out of four Americans crosses that finest line, the last heartbeat, every year. Science tells us that as the population ages, the rate of deaths will increase while the ratio of births is expected to decrease.

We don’t stop to think about what we put our hearts through before they finally heave their last and say, enough. For the elite athlete, the heart may beat as little as 40 beats a minute, but for most of us, our hearts beat about 80 thumps a minute or 4,800 times per hour. According to one calculation, that amounts to 115,200 times every single day, over 42 million times a year and over 3.3 billion times if you live to be 80.

It is no wonder the heart is the largest muscle of all. It has to do the heavy lifting for a lifetime until that last moment that delineates life from death, the irrevocable, irretrievable clock-stopper, the split-second that spells goodbye. Another laugh that will never echo through a room again.



Made in America?

Of all the examples of how the coronavirus will impact the world, nothing struck with more shockwaves than yesterday’s announcement by jetBlue Airlines which voluntarily offered to change reservations without charge for passengers who simply did not want to travel out of fear of becoming infected. Travel is the world’s overall number one industry, encompassing airlines, airports, hotels, cruise ships, rental cars, trucking, transport, fuel, restaurants and a thousand other components. We saw the economic tsunami that a temporary halt caused after 9/11.

The virus, first identified in Wuhan, China and now spread to 47 countries, has put entire cities on lockdown, shut down schools, triggered cancellations of shipments and events where large crowds gather. It has made us suspicious of everyone we see who sneezes.

Until there is a vaccine, the only bright light the potential pandemic can shine would be a realization that putting the world’s eggs in one Chinese basket wasn’t such a hot idea after all. It may have been the cheaper route for gobbling consumption but it is likely to prove the most costly in maintaining expectations that shelves be filled with affordable products, coffee shops serve up millions of hot brewed caffeine-laden drinks without interruption and Amazon supply everything you never knew you needed.

That old Made in America label might just have a bit of a recovery period while the coronavirus is on the warpath.


In response to ‘Can’t Grand Bahama Catch a Break’

Three weeks ago today, I recounted in a column called ‘Can’t Grand Bahama Catch a Break’ the days of Grand Bahama in its infancy, watching it grow, and decades later, seeing it get pummeled by one storm or another, some with names of hurricanes, others by longer lasting endemic economic jabs. Grand Bahama had hit a rough patch, I wrote, and I am so happy to be eating my words as the island prepares for a new day, a new chapter and new energy when on Monday, a Heads of Agreement is signed for the island’s largest hotel property, the Grand Lucayan, and the port. The deal, with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and ITM Group/Holistica will free Grand Bahamians from the shackles of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, which has done a remarkable job by any standard with the container port, but has not been a friend to the island in its hotel and airport operations. Congratulations to all who came together. May they give Grand Bahama the break it needed to catch.