by Karen Ball
Imagine awakening one morning, not knowing where you are, utterly unable to move or speak. Imagine coming to the slow realization that you are in a hospital, and that the people all around you are looking at you and talking to you, but you can do nothing in response. Imagine doctors telling that, at the age of 43, you’ve suffered a stroke that has caused what they call “locked-in” syndrome, where your body is frozen but your mind is fully functional. Fully functional…and trapped. Imagine realizing that the only thing you can move is your left eye. That’s it.
Such was the case for Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jean Do–pronounced jhan doh–to his friends and family), a one-time editor of ELLE magazine. I’d never heard of him until I caught the fascinating docudrama, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. But get this: the movie is based on Bauby’s memoir. Written after he had the stroke! Remember, now, he can only move his left eye. That’s it. He cannot speak. Cannot respond in any way except to blink that one eye. And he wrote a memoir.
The movie chronicles Jean Do’s remarkable journey from despair to hope, from praying for death to embracing life. It’s an amazing story of not giving in when circumstances seem insurmountable. We move from inside his head, where he is trapped, to connecting with those around him. A speech therapist devises a way for him to communicate. She reads the letters of the alphabet in descending order of their use, and he blinks his left eye when she reaches the appropriate letter. Blinks once for yes, twice for no. Tedious? Yes. Frustrating. Undoubtedly. But despite all that, he connects. Get outside of himself. Sees that so long as he keeps reaching, keeps moving forward, he’s not trapped at all. He’s still there. And he still has something to say. In fact, he now has more to say.
This man and his story moved me. And taught me. Showed me that doing what we’re called to do, what we’re created to do—sharing the truth of God’s love—is more important than any obstacle. Any frustration. Any discouragement. And it reminded me that the valleys–those deep, dark places where we feel lost and forgotten and incapable of going on—are the very depths where we most often find our truest voice.
Last but certainly not least, Bauby’s life challenged me. Because if he, with only one eye to communicate, can carry on, can move past the obstacles trying to hold him back, and get his task accomplished, then I most certainly have no excuse. Whatever God has asked me to do for Him, whatever stories He’s given me to tell, I will do it. I will tell them. Because I’m able.
In Him, I’m able.
As are we all.