by Kelly Boggs
French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a massive stroke in December, 1995. Twenty days later, the 43-year-old father of two awoke from a coma to discover the only muscles in his body unaffected by the stroke were those of his left eye. By blinking, he was able to make it clear that though his flesh was unresponsive, his mind was unimpaired.
Through an amazing process, Bauby was soon able to communicate. A special chart was devised that listed the letters of the alphabet based on frequency of usage. As letters were pointed to, Bauby would blink to indicate his selection and thus spell out his communication.
Undaunted by his debilitating setback, Bauby continued to write. He worked daily in three-hour shifts, blinking his thoughts one letter at a time as a secretary pointed to the chart. Though the process was painfully slow, by the end of the summer of 1996, Bauby had "dictated" the text of a 137-page book.
Titled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Bauby's prose was published in 1997. In the extraordinary book, he shares the experience of possessing a healthy mind that is trapped inside a paralyzed body. He compares his own body to a diving bell—a mere container, providing only life support—in which his soul exists like a caged butterfly. Jean-Dominique Bauby died on March 9, 1997, two days after his book was published.
I find Bauby's determination to embrace life in spite of his tragic circumstance inspiring.
Winston Churchill is another person I admire. The indomitable statesman stirred the hearts of the British during the dark days of World War II. Churchill's strong words and stubborn spirit inspired the people of England to persevere amid the onslaught of Nazi bombs. It was Churchill's "never, never, never, never give up" attitude that enabled him to see beyond bombed-out buildings and smoldering ruble and envision a victorious England.
The Apostle Paul also seemed to possess a determined "never give up" attitude toward life. It was he who penned, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Paul's singular goal was to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unjust prison chains did not discourage him, nor did the stark reality of a pending date with death daunt him. Paul faced every obstacle with his goal clearly fixed in his mind.
These men have one thing in common: They refused to give up on pursuing a goal, in spite of the fact that each encountered overwhelming and discouraging difficulties in life.
Awarding-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer once presented a sketch that captures well the spirit of these men. The cartoon begins with a man encountering a guru sitting at a fork in the road. "Which way is success?" the man asks the wise teacher. The stoic sage points down the path to his left. The man, thrilled at the prospect of easy success, rushes off in the appropriate direction. From the distance comes a loud "SPLAT."
The man reappears. He is bruised and tattered. Again he asks the guru, "Which way is success?" Once again the wise man says nothing. He simply points down the path to his left. The man quickly races down the path for the second time. From the distance comes a much louder "SPLAT."
The man returns crawling on his hands and knees. He is bloody and beaten. He yells at the guru, "Twice I have asked you about the path to success. Both times I followed your directions and both times all I have gotten is splatted!" He screams at the top of his lungs, "No more pointing, talk to me!"
The wise man calmly replies, "Success is that way. It is just a little past splat."
Jean-Dominique Bauby was debilitated by a stroke. SPLAT!
Winston Churchill faced the menacing Nazi war machine. SPLAT!
The Apostle Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and faced a death sentence. SPLAT!
Though each man encountered severe setbacks, they did not quit. They persevered past the splats in their lives.
Splat happens. Whatever shape, form, or fashion it takes in your life, don't quit. Remember, success is just a little past splat.
Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.