Possibility is the access to extraordinary living: meet JDB

Is this HELL?

Imagine that you are 43 years old and on top of the world.  You have two homes (one in the city, one in the country), you have a wife and children, you drive an expensive sports car, you have a mistress, you have a great job, plenty of money, status……Then whilst you are out driving with one of your children you suffer a stroke.  20 days later you come out of a coma.  Coming out of that coma you simply think it was bad dream and you will shortly get up and resume your life.

Slowly you learn that you will never return to your normal life.  Your mind is just as it was before the stroke.  You can see, you can hear, you can smell, you can feel – all of your senses work.  Only one issue – your body does not work.  You are in hell.  You are aware of everything but you are locked inside your body.  You cannot move your head, your arms, your legs, you cannot swallow….  Everything has to be done for you: you exist because the feed you via a drip, you pee via a catheter…….. You are in the middle of watching a football match, you are really into it, it is half-time and someone comes and switches it off.  The machine that is monitoring is beeping loudly, you are going insane with the noise, you catheter has fallen off, you are totally soaked, you are in misery.  You cannot call out.  You have to wait and bear what is so until someone comes and does something.  Your life is at the mercy of other people – totally.

What is your experience of life?  Would you be tempted to end it all?  Would you feel like a victim, cry and grieve for your lost life?  I suspect many of us would do that.

Introducing Jean-Dominique Bauby

What did Jean-Dominique Bauby  (“JDB”) do?  JDB noticed that he could do something – he could blink his left eyelid.  With the help and inspiration of an amazing speech therapist he learned to communicate using an optimised alphabet.  This required commitment, dedication, patience on the part of JDB and the people around him – with that in place he was able to communicate with many people.  Yet, JDB did not stop there he went further.

JDB invented a Possibility for himself and his life that enabled him to transcend his circumstances, to leave a legacy to his children and all of us.  A legacy that we can use to be grateful for all the simple things (like being able to swallow, turn our head, wash ourselves) that we can do often without thinking about it.  And a legacy that calls our attention to the power of Possibility as an access to extraordinary living – a life lived with meaning, with purpose, with fulfilment.

What Possibility did JDB inventthat inspired him to live a meaningful, purpose life where he was the author of his life, up to meeting the challenges of his circumstances?  JDB invented the Possibility of writing a book (something he had dreamed of and never done) and leaving a legacy to his children.  He also wanted to show some former friends, colleagues and associates that contrary to what they thought he was not a vegetable – a word that they used to describe.  This Possibility kept JDB going for about two years.

With the help of an extraordinary young women (Mendibil) he got his book dictated and then published.  The book is called the The Diving Bell And The Butterfly it was published on 7th March 1997.  To get it to that stage JDB did the following according to the Independent:

  • He would spend most of the night editing his thoughts and composing sentences, which he memorised so that when Mendibil arrived in the morning he could dictate the latest instalment to her in a succession of blinks.
  • He was able to write his book, using only his ability to blink at the most frequently used letters of the alphabet – E, S, A, R, I, N, T and so on, while Mendibil pointed to them on a screen: one blink for “yes”, two blinks for “no”.

So JDB suffered his stroke on 8th December 1995 (age 43).  His book (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly) was published in France on 7th March 1997 – 15 months later.  And JDB died 2 days later.  Is it too much to argue that it is this Possibility that JDB invented that helped him to endure, to transcend his circumstances and live long enough to see his Possibility delivers the fruits of its existence?

The life lesson for us all

By inventing and living into a Possibility that inspired JDB and gave meaning to his life JDB transcended his circumstances and left behind a book that is described by the Financial Times as ‘One of the great books of the century’ and Edmund White says ‘Read this book and fall in love with life.’

So what is the example, the life lesson that JDB has left for us if we want to listen?  I assert that the life lesson is simply this: no matter what our circumstances we can choose to invent a Possibility for ourselves and our lives that leaves us being powerful in the face of these circumstances, allow us to transcend these circumstances, gives our living meaning turning ordinary living into extraordinary living.  And by doing that we can leave a legacy behind: inspire our friends, our children, our fellow human beings.

The question is this:  Will I take this path?  Will you take this path?  Will I, you, we invent Possibility(And live from Possibility) that leave us as authors of our lives, people who are up to the circumstances at hand, people who make an impact/contribution to ourselves and others?  Or will be simply act as ‘victims’ and ‘blame circumstances’ for pissing our lives down the toilet.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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