Quotes from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Jean-Dominique Bauby ·  132 pages

Rating: (48.5K votes)


“I need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“The memory of that event has only just come back to me, now doubly painful: regret for a vanished past and, above all, remorse for lost opportunities. Mithra-Grandchamp is the women we were unable to love, the chances we failed to seize, the moments of happiness we allowed to drift away. Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses: a race whose result we know beforehand but in which we fail to bet on the winner.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Other letters simply relate the small events that punctuate the passage of time: roses picked at dusk, the laziness of a rainy Sunday, a child crying himself to sleep. Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest. A couple of lines or eight pages, a Middle Eastern stamp or a suburban postmark . . . I hoard all these letters like treasure. One day I hope to fasten them end to end in a half-mile streamer, to float in the wind like a banner raised to the glory of friendship.
It will keep the vultures at bay.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches his home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly



“Once, I was a master at recycling leftovers. Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Does the cosmos contain keys for opening my diving bell? A subway line with no terminus? A currency strong enough to buy my freedom back? We must keep looking.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses: a race whose result we know beforehand but in which we fail to bet on the winner.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Want to play hangman? asks Theophile, and I ache to tell him that I have enough on my plate playing quadriplegic. But my communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home. By the time you strike, even you no longer understand what had seemed so witty before you started to dictate it, letter by letter. So the rule is to avoid impulsive sallies. It deprives conversation of its sparkle, all those gems you bat back and forth like a ball-and I count this forced lack of humor one of the great drawbacks of my condition.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly



“But I see in the clothes a symbol of continuing life. And proof that I still want to be myself. If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“There comes a time when the heaping up of calamities brings on uncontrollable nervous laughter - when, after a final blow from fate, we decide to treat it all as a joke.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“I receive remarkable letters. They are opened for me, unfolded, and spread out before my eyes in a daily ritual that gives the arrival of the mail the character of a hushed and holy ceremony. I carefully read each letter myself. Some of them are serious in tone, discussing the meaning of life, invoking the supremacy of the soul, the mystery of every existence. And by a curious reversal, the people who focus most closely on these fundamental questions tend to be people I had known only superficially. Their small talk has masked hidden depths. Had I been blind and deaf, or does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person's true nature?

Other letters simply relate the small events that punctuate the passage of time: roses picked at dusk, the laziness of a rainy Sunday, a child crying himself to sleep. Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest. A couple of lines or eight pages, a Middle Eastern stamp or a suburban postmark... I hoard all these letters like treasure. One day I hope to fasten them end to end in a half-mile streamer, to float in the wind like a banner raised to the glory of friendship.

It will keep the vultures at bay.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Far from such din, when blessed silence returns, I can listen to the butterflies that flutter inside my head. To hear them, one must be calm and pay close attention, for their wingbeats are barely audible. Loud breathing is enough to drown them out. This is astonishing: my hearing does not improve, yet I hear them better and better. I must have butterfly hearing.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Speech therapy is an art that deserves to be more widely known. You cannot imagine the acrobatics your tongue mechanically performs in order to produce all the sounds of a language. Just now I am struggling with the letter l, a pitiful admission for an editor in chief who cannot even pronounce the name of his own magazine! On good days, between coughing fits, I muster enough energy and wind to be able to puff out one or two phonemes. On my birthday, Sandrine managed to get me to pronounce the whole alphabet more or less intelligibly. I could not have had a better present. It was as if those twenty-six letters and been wrenched from the void; my own hoarse voice seemed to emanate from a far-off country. The exhausting exercise left me feeling like a caveman discovering language for the first time. Sometimes the phone interrupts our work, and I take advantage of Sandrine's presence to be in touch with loved ones, to intercept and catch passing fragments of life, the way you catch a butterfly. My daughter, Celeste, tells me of her adventures with her pony. In five months she will be nine. My father tells me how hard it is to stay on his feet. He is fighting undaunted through his ninety-third year. These two are the outer links of the chain of love that surrounds and protects me. I often wonder about the effect of these one-way conversations on those at the other end of the line. I am overwhelmed by them. How dearly I would love to be able to respond with something other than silence to these tender calls. I know that some of them find it unbearable. Sweet Florence refuses to speak to me unless I first breathe noisily into the receiver that Sandrine holds glued to my ear. "Are you there, Jean-Do?" she asks anxiously over the air.

And I have to admit that at times I do not know anymore.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly



“The memory of that event has only just come back to me, now doubly painful: regret for a vanished past and, above all, remorse for lost opportunities. Mithra-Grandchamp is the women we were unable to love, the chances we failed to seize, the moments of happiness we allowed to drift away. Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Other letters simply relate the small events that punctuate the passing of time: roses picked at dusk, the laziness of a rainy Sunday, a child crying himself to sleep. Capturing the moment, these small slices of life, these small gusts of happiness, move me more deeply than all the rest. A couple of lines or eight pages, a Middle Eastern stamp or a suburban postmark... I hoard all these letters like treasure.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Yet I understood the poetry of such mind games one day when, attempting to ask for my glasses (lunettes), I was asked what I wanted to do with the moon (lune).”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“We thread our way through a moving forest of ice-cream cones and crimson thighs.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“When I began a diet a week before my stroke, I never dreamed of such a dramatic result.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly



“I skim through the issue [of Elle] and reach the offending photo, a montage that ridicules rather than glorifies our idol. It is one of the mysteries of our trade. You work for weeks on a subject, it goes back and forth among the most skillful pairs of hands, and no one spots the glaring blunder that a neophyte would spot in a second.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“The identity badge pinned to Sandrine's white tunic says "Speech Therapist," but it should read "Guardian Angel.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“What demon could have induced people to line a whole room with orange fabric?”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Leo cada carta escrupulosamente. Algunas no carecen de gravedad. Me hablan del sentido de la vida, de la supremacía del alma, del misterio de toda existencia, y por un curioso fenómeno de inversión de las apariencias, son aquellos con quienes había establecido las relaciones más triviales los que más abordan estas cuestiones esenciales. Su ligereza enmascaraba un alma profunda. ¿Acaso estaba ciego y sordo, o bien se requiere la luz de una desgracia para que un hombre se revele tal como es?”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“I carefully read each letter myself. Some of them are serious in tone, discussing the meaning of life, invoking the supremacy of the soul, the mystery of every existence. And by a curious reversal, the people who focus most closely on these fundamental questions tend to be people I had known only superficially. Their small talk had masked hidden depths. Had I been blind and deaf, or does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person’s true nature? Other”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly



“You can handle the wheelchair," said the occupational therapist, with a smile intended to make the remark sound like good news, whereas to my ears it had the ring of a life sentence.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“I could spend whole days at Cinecittà. There, I am the greatest director of all time. On the town side, I reshoot the close-ups for Touch of Evil. Down at the beach, I rework the dolly shots for Stagecoach, and offshore I re-create the storm rocking the smugglers of Moonfleet.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“France was at peace; one couldn't shoot the bearers of bad news.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“Vincent had ten major ideas every week: three brilliant, five good, and two ridiculous.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


“In that hothouse atmosphere, criminal records bloomed like orchids all around us.”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby, quote from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly



About the author

Jean-Dominique Bauby
Born place: in Paris, France
Born date April 23, 1952
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