Life Shouldn’t Be Taken For Granted

(This blogpost is based mainly on my reading of the book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death” by Jean-Dominic Bauby & translated by Jeremy Leggat and two articles: 1.
2. )

The culture section of ‘The Guardian’ ( March 2nd ,2015) carries an article by film critic Peter Bradshaw “The film that makes me cry: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”. It made an interesting read about the phenomenon of crying at the movies which I do many a times, as also while reading a book. So I cheered when Bradshaw says “There is sometimes almost a kind of inverted intellectual machismo in talking about what a great big wuss you are – always sobbing at some film which isn’t, say, a screen Hamlet or sombre social-realist work but a classic Disney heart wrencher or other more obviously populist entertainment..” I further whooped when he ends by saying “Crying during a film is a strange, narcotic experience. After doing so, I have often walked the streets in a strange, happy, but slightly unwholesome kind of delirium. Maybe sad films are the cinematic equivalent of absinthe.”
But I have not watched the film which won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the Cesar Awards as well as four Academy Award nominations. I possibly will not do so in the future too because it has under the garb of ‘artistic licenec’ fobbed off a story that is based on un-truth. It has perhaps mocked a very unique and tender lover story. Which I think is uncalled for because of the heartbreak it causes.I cannot get myself to watch it thus. Perhaps, I am sentimental and foolish. So be it!
I have read the book which is really great and written under exceptional circumstances. On 8 December 1995, Bauby, the editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine, suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. He awoke 20 days later, mentally aware of his surroundings, but physically paralyzed with what is known as locked-in syndrome, with the only exception of some movement in his head and eyes. His right eye had to be sewn up due to an irrigation problem. The entire book was written by Bauby blinking his left eyelid, which took ten months. Using partner assisted scanning, a transcriber repeatedly recited a French language frequency-ordered alphabet (E, S, A, R, I, N, T, U, L, etc.), until Bauby blinked to choose the next letter. The book took about 200,000 blinks to write and an average word took approximately two minutes. (Wikipedia).

The book is also an exceptionally beautiful love story between Jean-Dominic and Florence Ben Sadoun. She was Bauby’s lover and companion for three years, the woman who sat by his side, who held his hand when he died, who was planning on taking a trip with him even while he lay wasted in a hospital bed. The film has cut her out cruelly while focusing on Bauby’s erstwhile partner & mother of his children,Sylvie de la Rouchefoucauld. In the book, it is Florence not Sylvie who is referred to tenderly by Bauby on his last day before the stroke – ‘Florence softly stroked the nape of my neck.’ She remained loyal to him till the day he died. ‘Florence, always Florence, at your side,’ wrote Bauby’s colleague, the editor of Elle, Valerie Toranian. ‘The woman you loved, who loved you until your last breath”.

Certain things from the book are what I want to share with everyone. Things which we take for granted. Life, as we live it, without being aware of its beauty, both latent and manifest. In Bauby’s words, here they are:

Hope: “Does the cosmos contain keys for opening my diving bell? A subway line with no terminus? A currency strong enough to buy my freedom back? We must keep looking”

Exist vs Live: “I need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.

Totems & Symbols: “But I see in the clothes a symbol of continuing life. And proof that I still want to be myself. If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere.”

Letters: “I receive remarkable letters. They are opened for me, unfolded, and spread out before my eyes in a daily ritual that gives the arrival of the mail the character of a hushed and holy ceremony. I carefully read each letter myself. Some of them are serious in tone, discussing the meaning of life, invoking the supremacy of the soul, the mystery of every existence. And by a curious reversal, the people who focus most closely on these fundamental questions tend to be people I had known only superficially. Their small talk has masked hidden depths. Had I been blind and deaf, or does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person’s true nature?
Other letters simply relate the small events that punctuate the passage of time: roses picked at dusk, the laziness of a rainy Sunday, a child crying himself to sleep. Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest. A couple of lines or eight pages, a Middle Eastern stamp or a suburban postmark… I hoard all these letters like treasure. One day I hope to fasten them end to end in a half-mile streamer, to float in the wind like a banner raised to the glory of friendship.
It will keep the vultures at bay”

Family:“Sometimes the phone interrupts our work, and I take advantage of Sandrine’s ( his speech therapist) presence to be in touch with loved ones, to intercept and catch passing fragments of life, the way you catch a butterfly. My daughter, Celeste, tells me of her adventures with her pony. In five months she will be nine. My father tells me how hard it is to stay on his feet. He is fighting undaunted through his ninety-third year. These two are the outer links of the chain of love that surrounds and protects me. I often wonder about the effect of these one-way conversations on those at the other end of the line. I am overwhelmed by them. How dearly I would love to be able to respond with something other than silence to these tender calls”.
Love:In one passage Bauby says “ Sweet Florence refuses to speak to me unless I first breathe noisily into the receiver that Sandrine holds glued to my ear. “Are you there, Jean-Do?” she asks anxiously over the air.” I cried when I read that. How absolutely tender and beautiful. Apparently Florence even endured his disapproval if he did not like what she was wearing or how she had done her make-up….

So Hafiz says “And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky”.

Read the book, guys  🙂