Book: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Whenever I go to vacation, I always bring a book with me (Yes, I still refuse to get a Kindle!) For this week-end getaway I had neither a specific book in mind nor had a book I had in the midst of reading. My luggage ready to go, I quickly browsed through my bookcase while the cab was impatiently honking outside. The pressure not giving me the chance to over-think, my choice had to be instinctual. The book my hands gravitated towards was a surprise. A memoir I had read a long time ago, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Maybe you’ve seen the gorgeous movie directed by Julian Schnabel, If you haven’t, here is the brief summary of this remarkable true story: The successful, witty and glamorous editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine has a major stroke that leaves him with a locked-in-syndrome. He cannot speak or move any part of his body, with the exception of his left eye.. They design an alphabet specifically for him, in the frequency of the letters used in the French language. This way, he is able to communicate by blinking his left eye when the reader of the alphabet strikes the right letter. They jot each letter down until a word emerges. This is precisely how he writes this extraordinary memoir.

Physically, mentally and spiritually struggling to grasp this sudden and unforgiving turn of events, he tackles with profound reflections on identity and the meaning of life. Although the subject matter is heavy, his matter-of-fact approach and sarcastic sense of humor lighten the pages. His honesty is disarming, his resilience is inspiring, his message is reviving… reminding us the obvious: Your life can change in the blink of an eye.

I called his story extraordinary. The irony is that he actually draws our attention to the ordinary moments of life. Shaving his father’s beard. Caressing his children’s hair. Dried sausages hanging from the ceiling of a delicatessen. We so easily dismiss them and yet as I was saying yesterday, they are the ones that make up a life when they’re all sewed together. It reminds me of something that the character of Carson in Downton Abbey says, “The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end, that’s all there is.”

We shouldn’t be wasting our lives on things we can’t control, neither should we put value and energy on superficial things. If only we could just get out of our heads, breathe in and breathe out, stay there, in that moment, rooted, with all the senses surrounding us, in love, with life itself. Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?

I need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as I need to breath.

Jean-Dominique Bauby






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