I’ve read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby a few years ago, but just re-read it this past week. In our Language and Literature class we talked about how some critics have put it in the “nostalgic” camp of disability memoir, but I don’t feel 100% confident in doing so.
It’s not that I think “I should count my blessings” or “things could be so much worse” after reading it. But I do feel like Bauby conveys of sense of magic through his prose that I don’t often feel from other works. It’s the type of magic that makes me appreciate sitting at the library and grading 38 of my students papers with a friend, or taking a walk with my dog at the park and chatting with the other doggie people. In all honesty, I’m sure this feeling will fade with time (in all likelihood not very much time), but for the past few days I can’t help going about my daily business thinking, “I’m going to look back on this moment years from now and treasure it”… so why not treasure it now?
I’ve always hated that cliché saying, “live every day to the fullest” or “live every day like it’s your last” because they’re terrible. If I were to really live my life like that, I’d have no motivation to make my bed in the morning, go grocery shopping, eat anything but pizza and Oreos, and would call my parents every few minutes to tell them I love them. But I do think there’s something to be said to finding the beauty in every moment and cherishing it.
Bauby’s chapter entitled “The Duck Hunt” is my favorite because he talks about how another little patient is lucky to have been discharged from the hospital because Bauby was about to “carry out [his] plan to exterminate the duck.” Even though the duck is just a bothersome toy that quacks when a visitor enters the room, Bauby creates a whole chapter surrounding it and the lengths he would apparently go to to silence it. I like the notion of thinking of events in my daily life as mini-adventures that I could novelize.
I was once told not to get stuck wishing for the future. We have a tendency “to get through” the present by thinking ahead to the future and not living our lives in the here and now. So, for me, that could be thinking “next quarter I’ll have fewer students” or “next month my pool will be open and I can grade papers next to it.” This type of thinking is obviously to the detriment of thinking “having so many students is positive because they articulate multiple perspectives” or “even though my pool is closed, I can still go to the park and sit on a blanket in the sunshine with my dog while I grade papers.” So, in a somewhat different way, I think Bauby’s text encourages readers to have this appreciation. Who thinks about the enjoyment of the luncheon ritual? Bauby does. And so should we all. There are so many little pleasures in life that seem to get lost when we’re busy thinking about the bigger ones. I’m trying to enjoy the little things just as much as the big ones because, honestly, wouldn’t I be a happier person by doing so?