Thursday, February 19, 2009

Life Is A Gift

About two weeks back I wrote a review here about Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell & the Butterfly. Or rather, a review of the film about Jean-Dominique Bauby's story. It was the second time I had seen the film this past several months and as you can see the film made an impact on me. Sometimes art does that. Despite our differences of time and place, differing moments in history or geography and culture, a work of art or a story cuts through to one's heart. Such was this film. So much so that I had to read the book as well because occasionally, during the movie, there are excerpts from the book.

I didn't catch it the first time, didn't realize it was Bauby who was speaking, had written these things. I mean, it was clearly stated but I didn't add it up in my head. This second time, I thirsted for more of this man's prose.

It is beautiful writing, in the true belles-lettres sense of the word, and must be especially so in the original French. The chapters are short, the topics simple. The Wheelchair, Prayer, Bathtime, The Alphabet, The Empress... But each carries a far greater weight because they have been produced one letter at a time by the blinking of an eye. Not in "a blink of an eye" but rather, because every other muscle in his body is frozen except his eyelid, by blinking the left eye he communicates with. Of course this blinking form of communication is simply the final step in the inward development of each pearl, from grains of sand to invaluable jewels, all strung together in this wonderful collection of observations, memories, insights.

This limitation -- communication by eye -- makes telling a joke a bit tedious, yet in the writing you can still see his sense of humor. You see, too, the power of the spirit to rise up in the face of brutal circumstances. His mind is fully awake, and he locked within.

A line from Dylan's Hurricane comes to mind: "put in a prison cell, but one time could have been the champion of the world." Hurricane Carter, who was unjustly imprisoned, was able to appeal his sentence and eventually regained his freedom. For Bauby, such a hope was an impossibility. And yet, through the power of imagination and memory, he did have a certain kind of freedom. Writes Bauby:

"My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas' court.

"You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions."

With these words I leave this thought: Today, cherish what you have. And don't let anyone or anything ever steal your spirit. Life is a precious gift.

And for sure, this book comes highly recommended. You can find it both new and used on


Anonymous said...

I've heard so many things about the book and the movie, I'm make sure I watch it one of these days...

Anonymous said...

Oops, let me try it again:
I've heard so many good things about the book and the movie, I'll make sure that I watch it one of these days...
Better now.

Ed Newman said...

You will not be disappointed...