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Monday, December 14, 2009

The value of language in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

"I try desperately to warn them, but my dream conforms perfectly with reality. I am unable to utter a word". The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The Dream, p. 52

When we're used to having something, when we were born with it, sometimes we don't really appreciate the value of that thing that "everyone" has and we take it for granted…but when someone loses that something that's so important to have been given to us with our life, that's the moment of truth, the second in which usually people learn to appreciate that human gift…But it can be too late.

One example of a gift that's generally taken for granted is the ability to speak, to express what we feel, to communicate what we have inside and to tell others if we are in pain, if we like something, if we feel sad and want to cry or scream.

Pretty much no one thinks there's a possibility of never being able to speak again and, even more, of never being able to speak again but actually being able to think and being aware of everything that happens without having a voice to express whatever those things make that person feel.

But that possibility exists and is called the "Locked-In" syndrome. Someone who has it can see, hear and understand everything that happens, but cannot express what he/she thinks or feels because the brain can't send the right signal to the body or because the body is paralyzed.

One excellent, inspiring, sad and teaching example of this situation is the French movie "Le Scaphandre et le Papillon" (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) which tells the story of a man who used to be the prestigious editor of the Parisian magazine, ELLE, but who then has a brain failure and becomes completely paralyzed, being only able to move his left eye and blink. The locked-in syndrome.

He couldn't move, but some tears would eventually come out of his eyes; it was the sorrow that needed to come out in some way.

This man discovers a whole new world, he starts to feel that he's going insane, he doesn't want to live anymore…He sees all the people he used to be with and he understands the world in a different way, he now feels that all he once was isn't worth anything at all if he can't even speak.

But he has this strong feeling to communicate and express what he feels…So, after being close to surrendering, he decides to try this method of communicating through a specific language using his only powers: his mind and his left eye. They create a special alphabet that starts with the most used letters and a nurse that takes care of him starts patiently saying the letters out loud, to which he has to blink to let her know the letter he needs to then form a word, then a sentence, then…

That way, this man that was once the editor of Elle, writes a book about his devastating experience without being able to move, to breathe or to speak. Sadly, he dies two days after the book's publishing, but his words remain as a story of a life, as a story of a man that did anything to express what he was feeling and living.

We that can think, speak and express anything we want should have this story as an example of how lucky we are. Words and the ability to make them sound are a treasure that should be more appreciated because they make us human beings.






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