Jean-Dominique Bauby had more determination in his left eyelid than many people have who are alive and well. At the age of 43, Bauby suffered a stroke that left him not only speechless, but unable to move his body. The exception was his one eye.
If you were rendered motionless and speechless, what would you do with your life? Imagine lying in a bed all day, having other people take care of you. Unlike those who knowingly have a short time to live, you are still vital on the inside. You weren’t given a death sentence. You just have limitations.
Despite not being able-bodied, this French author was not ready to throw in the towel. Where his body failed him, his mind was still intact. He had much he wanted to share. Just when it seemed impossible to do so, Bauby found a way.
Of course, he couldn’t do it alone. Bauby used an interlocutor and a system called partner-assisted scanning. After writing his book in his mind, he blinked with his one functional eye when his assistant recited the alphabet. Together, they assembled his book one letter at a time.
What Bauby has shown us is that determination can win over despair.
Precious Gift #1
It has been said that life is the most precious gift there is. We are brought into the world as an intentional act and are nurtured by those who are older and more experienced. But along the way, we face many sharp turns, bumps in the road that can shake us up. And if we aren’t mindful, we can take life for granted or even let life events lead us to losing all hope.
It is tragic when someone dies before their time. But consider another kind of tragedy - not really living while we have the chance. We often don’t realize until it’s too late that we hurt other people, that we were selfish, or that we let fear hold us back.
No one, perhaps, understands death better than hospice workers who dedicate their career to helping the dying do so with respect. Because they have been exposed to death over and over again and because they are highly trained to have an accepting mindset and a compassionate heart, they can speak with wisdom on the subject.
In the movie Letting Go: A Hospice Journey, one hospice worker explained how “despair is a doorway.” It sometimes takes a person falling apart to be able to put themselves back together in “a new way.”
I recently spoke with a colleague who shared that a year ago, her marriage was in trouble. But instead of getting back on track, it took a different turn. She and her husband took a long hard look at what was getting in the way of intimacy and what patterns from childhood were coming up and keeping them stuck. They were able to do some inner work and support each other through the turbulence. As a result, they experienced a transformation. She described their strengthened bond not as returning to where they left off, but as taking a new road altogether.
We all have the opportunity to go through a powerful transformation, to overcome our devastation - no matter how large - and engage in life more fully.
Precious Gift #2
Many people who reach the end of life come to terms with how broken their relationships are and how lonely they feel. Even from their death beds, the dying can reconnect with family members, let those they hurt know they care, and mend old wounds. It is, perhaps, the second more precious gift there is.
Consider what your strongest stuck point is in your life right now. Do you experience chronic pain? Are you deeply depressed and considering ending your life? Is fear so great that it has taken control of the helm of your ship and keeping you a prisoner?
These are not trivial challenges. They can wreak havoc on our mind and our body and can lead us to “succumb to chaos.” We may feel we’ve tried everything in our power, but our situation has not gotten better. We may believe we do not deserve to have things go our way. We may even fear change itself.
Precious Gift #3
It is important to remember that there are things in life over which we have control and those over which we do not. For the things we can control, we can choose not to dwell on the problem. Instead, focus on the solution - how you can cure your pain, be it physical or mental. You can change your course in life, whether it is with a different partner, a new career, or simply a new attitude. And you can overcome your fears and become engaged with your life the way you want it to be. For the things beyond your control, it is important to make peace with the situation by accepting it and staying in the moment.
Life can be trying, but you don’t have to do it alone. Just like Bauby, you can find support from loved ones, helping professionals, and communities of like-minded individuals. The journey starts with you. When you make the decision to give life another go, you can find the tools and support you need to transform your circumstances and come out on the other side. This is another precious gift, one you can give yourself.