By Dom Cioffi
Many years ago, while I was at a friend’s wedding, I had an interesting conversation with an elderly gentleman about dying. But it wasn’t the “struggles of old age” kind of talk or a “what happens in the afterlife” discussion. No, this conversation was about the very moment when the human body is extinguished of life.
While this seems like a dark conversation for such a joyous occasion, our journey into this discussion started very innocently and was ultimately meant as a teachable moment.
I was making my way through the food line, filling my plate with the prerequisite matrimonial dishes, when I began scanning the surroundings for a good place to sit. My choices were limited so I hopped into an open spot at a nearby table where the aforementioned elderly man was already seated.
We broke into a casual talk about our relationships to the bride and groom and the beautiful day that they had been rewarded. We then went about our dining.
A little while later, a young boy about 10 years old came over and sat down with a magnificent plate of food. He had piled heaps of entrees onto his dish and then covered it with a multitude of dessert selections.
Both the old man and I noticed his culinary masterpiece and commented to the boy about his eager palette. The child smiled and then politely explained that his mom told him that he could eat whatever he wanted.
Within seconds he was devouring everything on his plate. Chocolate chip cookies were being mixed with potato salad; Jell-O was accompanying marinated flank steak; Coca-Cola was being used to wash down cupcakes drenched with blue cheese dressing.
In one respect I was in awe; in another I was mortified.
At one point, when the boy was in the process of trying to chew an obscene amount of food, the old man cleared his throat and announced, “You know, I almost died chewing a piece of steak one day.”
The little boy’s mouth stop moving almost immediately as he stared back at the old man. Admittedly, I stopped chewing and also stared.
“That’s right,” he continued. “I was sitting at a restaurant with my wife having a nice dinner just like you are now, never thinking that my life was possibly about to end.”
The boy looked over at me with a blank stare, his cheeks still filled with food, and then returned his gaze to the old man.
“I was chewing on a piece of steak and suddenly I couldn’t breath,” he explained. “And the more I tried to breathe the more panicked I became. It was like I was drowning without water. And the pain in my chest was incredible.”
“Holy cow!” I interrupted. “But, obviously, you survived?”
“Yes,” he explained. “But just barely. Everything was spinning and I was starting to lose consciousness when suddenly I felt my body being thrust about like a rag doll. As luck would have it, an off-duty police officer was dining nearby and saved my life by performing the Heimlich Maneuver.”
Again the young boy looked at me, as if the old man’s story may have been a joke and he was waiting for the punchline.
“It wasn’t my time,” he continued. “But I truly believe that I was only seconds away from meeting my Maker.”
The old man went on to explain other aspects of the experience, like the reaction of his wife who almost needed her own ambulance and the strange sensations he felt during those final moments.
He then finished his story by stating that, like so many other near-death survivors, he gained a more profound appreciation of life. But he also acknowledged an added bonus: the restaurant paid for their meals.
He then stood up and walked over to the boy who was just then swallowing the mound of food in his mouth. He placed his hand on his shoulder and stated, “Do yourself a favor, young man. Be careful how much food you pile into that mouth of yours.”
This week’s film also features some characters who no doubt gained an immense appreciation for life after surviving what is generally considered one of the United States Coast Guard’s most harrowing high seas rescues.
Starring Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, “The Finest Hours” revisits the daring rescue of 32 men off the coast of Cape Cod in 1952 during an epic winter storm.
Give this movie a shot if you’re in the mood for an anxiety-laced historical disaster drama. Today’s computer-aided graphics made this an especially intense film to watch as the recreations of the immense storm surges brought a valuable level of realism to the story.
A saturated “B-” for “The Finest Hours.”