The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is one of the most inspiring and remarkable books I’ve ever read.
Another common theme in my reading is stories of people in extreme situations. War, exploration, survival against incredible odds, etc. On the surface it seems grim but what I like about these books is that they put my life and my troubles in perspective. I also find man’s ability to endure endlessly inspirational. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is a story of man’s ability to endure, only internalized.
Jean-Dominique Bauby was a successful editor at Elle, living in Paris and happily married with children when he suffered a massive stroke. The stroke left Bauby a victim of Locked-in Syndrome. His mind was left healthy and undamaged but his body was almost entirely paralyzed. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is a memoir of his new life, painstakingly dictated to his editor one letter at a time using an elaborate blink code. (His left eye was the only part of his body that he had conscious control of.)
How many times have you heard someone, describing a scenario similar to Bauby’s say, “If that ever happens to me, just kill me. I’d rather be dead.” Bauby’s bravery in the face of his circumstances is humbling and inspirational. The titular Diving Bell represents Bauby’s body, cut off from the world, but his mind is The Butterfly — free to roam freely. In these flights, Bauby finds beauty in memories of the past, lively examination of his present and through flights of fancy. Bauby is unflinching in chronicling the hardships of his new life but he avoids falling into the trap of self-pity.
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is a beautifully written book, deeply moving and inspirational. I cannot recommend it highly enough.