Monday, April 14, 2008

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly

So maybe thrillers about the imminent demise of the world as we know it are not your "cup of tea." Well, how about a book about someone who can only blink one eye? Actually, a book WRITTEN by someone who can only blink one eye.

However, before we go any further, there is one point that must be clarified. I will continue to count "French bashing" as one of my many hobbies. My positive review of this book changes this fact in no way, no matter how un-Christian it is of me to be Franco-averse. I have been a student of history far too long to let slip my steadfast conviction that "Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion. All you do is leave behind a lot of noisy baggage." (This quote is attributed to everyone from Schwartzkopf to Churchill, but who cares? It's true!) If you have any doubts as to the veracity of the overall crumminess of France in all areas besides w(h)ine and cheese then Google "French military victories" and hit the "lucky" button. So far, I think the score is France-zero, the world-17, but who's counting. . .

I feel so much better now. I always find it cathartic to write off an entire nation of people in one tiny paragraph, hop onto my high horse and ride into the sunset! (And Mr. Wonderful thinks I'm sarcastic.) So how does one transition gracefully from caustic to charitable? I'll have to ask Ann Coulter, oh wait, she's always just caustic. . . . Ok, Ok I'll stop right now. Period.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby is such a great book , that it deserves a better introduction than the one I gave it. It is truly an inspiring and life affirming memoir. Bauby was the editor-in-chief of the French version of Elle magazine when he suffered a rare and usually deadly stroke in his brain stem. Upon awakening from his coma, he discovered that he had Locked-In Syndrome which is exactly what it sounds like. He was fully cognizant and aware, but completely trapped in his body only able to blink his left eye and turn his head a little. He "dictated" this book by having someone read through the alphabet and then blinking at the letter he wanted transcribed. While this book may not be Les Miserables in length, its strength lies in the simple beauty and buoyant humor of Bauby's prose.

With the sharpened view of his single eye and the forced contemplative nature of his condition, Bauby looks back on his life with a razor focus. He hones in on friends, acquaintances and family and explores the fleeting nature of life. Some have criticized this work for not being a "complete" memoir. The Diving Bell does not start out, "I was born on . . . ," and Bauby does not delve into the fact that he was apparently quite a womanizer and playboy, a domineering figure who ruled his magazine with an iron fist. I don't think this is a fair criticism as this memoir does not purport to explore every facet of the man's life. I would offer that, in fact, when he found himself "locked-in," Bauby was distilled down to his very essence and stripped of the extraneous trappings and labels that others saw. This book is that reflection.

I saw a little of myself in his tale. We are all trapped in a "diving bell," those things that weigh us down, threaten to crush us, defeat us, suck away our lives -- that physical part of us that is consumed with temporal cares, the fleshly side of our natures. Yet, all of us are spiritual beings, that when connected to God, can rise above the circumstances and experiences of life. We can become new creatures and be reborn like the butterfly.

Sadly, I don't believe that Bauby came to true salvation before his death in 1997. His book, however, is a lesson to everyone about the buoyancy of the human spirit, about humor in the face of darkness and about the celebration of the simple pleasures of life. As Bauby says, "If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere."

1 comment:

TropicGirl said...

"Going deer hunting without an accordian!" Classic! Thanks for writing. I love your blog!