Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Diving Bell & the Butterfly

"Today, my life feels like a string of near-misses. Women I was unable to love, opportunities I failed to seize, moments of happiness I let drift away. A race whose result I knew beforehand but failed to pick the winner. Had I been blind and deaf, or did the harsh light of disaster make me find my true nature?" ~ Jean-Dominique Bauby

Every once in a while a film moves you toward something inexplicably powerful. It is as if you are a child listening to adults talking about something serious which is beyond your comprehension, but it is something real and you lack the life experience to grasp it. Yet you are drawn to understand, because there is something profound taking place.

Such, for me, is Jean-Dominique Bauby’s story The Diving Bell & the Butterfly. I have not read the book, so these comments refer to the Golden Globe Award-winning film by the same name. And maybe the epiphany is simply this, that life is an awesome experience, even when tragic.

What is astonishing is that the film is equal to the task of conveying the story, a real man’s reality. Bauby was a French journalist and editor of the fashion magazine Elle. His life consisted of fame and style, wealth and women… a lifestyle others only dream of. Then one day, at age 43, Bauby suffered a stroke that left him victim to what is called “Locked In Syndrome.” His mental faculties were totally intact but his body paralyzed. Though speechless and immobile, he learned to communicate by blinking a single eyelid.

There are so many beautiful moments in this life affirming film. Despite the seemingly impossible circumstances, he wrote a memoir by blinking with his one good eye. His assistant would repeat the letters of the alphabet until she reached the letter he wanted, at which point he would blink. It took 200,000 blinks, and immense determination, to complete the memoir.

Bauby wrote that he had two things that were not paralyzed: his imagination and his memory. Hence, the title of his book. The paralysis made him feel like a man in a diving bell, cut off from the world, floating helpless, remote. But his mind, with the aid of memories and imagination, was like the butterfly, free to explore, taking him away from this seeming death trap imprisonment.

Based on the reviews, his book is evidently well seasoned with keen insights from a man who had lived life to the full and now recognized that there was still as much yet unseen within us waiting to be discovered, uncovered, revealed.

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