One of the most impactful books I have ever read was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which is a memoir transcribed to a personal assistant by a French Journalist, Jean-Dominique Bauby. Where the autobiographical tale picks up, he had spent several years with a rare and completely debilitating condition called locked-in syndrome. It is a beautifully recounted, brave and soulful work.
It hit a deep chord because I was also working as a personal assistant for a man in his mid-thirties who had become tetraplegic in his late teens. He had been unable to move anything below his neck after diving into a too shallow swimming pool. There was so much that broke my heart about his story and taught me grace and humility in catastrophe.
Something profound can happen when a world shrinks and its not always an immediate light-filled growth opportunity. I don’t think mindless optimism gets us there either. What shines through this book is the authors growing sense of enchantment and awe at the small irreplaceable, ordinary details of his life. There is a deep affection for people and places that is contagious, palpable and so obviously alluded him in his previous life, before the illness.
He had been attractive, successful and ambitious: a go-getter with the world at his proverbial feet. But, nothing had ever quite been enough. There was always more to gain the next conquest; the new challenge which negated any real connection with all the abundances which surrounded him.
I am on day three or so of very little normal social too-ing and fro-ing, and as I was walking today in the still chilly spring sunshine, this book came back to me. It struck me as the perfect metaphor for our current situation globally with all the distancing and what we face interculturally, around the world in the face of lockdown in this bizarre new set of circumstances.
Our dominant narrative is currently silent or at least muffled. We don’t know how long for or if anything will go ever back to “normal” or what we have come to believe is normal. Our overriding myth for so long has been one of “more” and ruthless progress. Even if you know this to be a false one, it’s hard not to follow along. Likely the big top-down answers will start to filter in soon with this domination obsession before too long. And it could be a painful, dangerous pause for many.
But, we have an opportunity to take a moment to connect to what is alive within us and surrounding us. To release what isn’t whole or needed and consciously make time for those things that are still living. For me today, it was the softly breathing earth coming back to life after winter and the faces of my children still softly wrapped in childhood.
It could be a time to appreciate the abundances and heal the hurts we have had and carry this pause with us and start to let in the droplets of beauty and connection that are waiting to quench our hunger. And, begin to shape our own stories.
I flipped open Coming Back To Life by Joanna Macy today and fortuitously landed on a section on which she says: “gratitude is politically subversive”. The fuller we feel the less we will need and the more we will be able to give and see and move and act.
It is an opportunity to start. Start small, start big. To take this pause in and imagine where you could get to if you felt just a drop in the beauty and richness of the world and felt moved enough to protect it.