165 of 2011 ∎ The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby; translated from the French by Jeremy Leggatt.
“I have known gentler awakenings,” Bauby shares—telling of the day he awoke from a coma, an ophthalmologist stitching shut his right eye. And him inside a diving bell: a massive stroke resulted in locked-in syndrome—Bauby locked inside his paralyzed body.
I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches the home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory.
The memoir has been painstakingly constructed by Bauby as he lay immobile in his hospital bed, deciding over words and phrases and paragraphs, turning them over in his head and then committing them to memory—words he then “dictated” by blinking (with one eyelid, to one Claude Mendibil) his way through a modified alphabet.
It’s a tedious, painstaking process: The meditation it demands and pushes against a body already oppressed by its silence. Every word here has fluttered within Bauby; every word has shouldered the weight of the realm it came from, the manner it was brought out into the world, what they want to say, what impression they would like to leave.
There are memories, of course. Bauby recalls scenes from his own life—shaving his father, taking his children to school, being kissed at the nape by his girlfriend. There is also the present, how he lives through his condition—the visits from friends and family, his son having to wipe the spit from his open mouth, doors and televisions left open and assaulting his senses.
Why these memories, why these specific details? There is no grand sermon from within the diving bell, no battle cry to go and embrace life while you still can. But why these particular words from Bauby?
All that weight it awes and humbles me. Bauby’s words—this slim book!—dares me to contemplate what words I would leave, if I were given the choice—what words, what would matter, what would stand with me and then, later and too soon, live without me?
PSA – I bought The Diving Bell and the Butterfly on sale [PhP200]at National Bookstore Cubao. At that crazy Attic, not unlike a book hospice, for seriously.