I recently watched The Intouchables, a brilliant French film, based on a true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, a wealthy, quadriplegic man. It begins with Philippe seeking to hire a caregiver. Driss is an unlikely candidate — a young, unemployed black man, down on his luck and life, that has given up on the system. Assuming he won’t get the job, he barges in demanding his papers be signed stating he applied for the position and was denied in order to collect government aid.
But denied he wasn’t . . .
I started to sort through the obvious reasons of why I liked it so much: touching, heartfelt, the deep connection the two men had. How they had saved each other.
But, no. That wasn’t it. It was how much we need someone in our life who will not tolerate or indulge our maladies, but who will march into a dark room, rip back the curtains, yank off the covers and bellow, “Get up! Get dressed! Live!”
This is what my mother did for years with my father, suffering from Crohn’s Disease and skin cancer that traveled to his brain. She kept him alive by not indulging him. There were a handful of breakdowns. Not many, as she is the strongest person I know. But one day I received a tearful phone call from her telling me my father wouldn’t leave the house. They had plans to drive three hours north to the ranch and the car was packed with a week’s worth of food in need of refrigeration. I was 3,000 miles away in New York, with two small kids circling my feet. Get him on the phone, I said. Then told him, You could either get busy living or get busy dying. What’s it going to be?
Maybe there was more to it. But not much. My mother called back after he abruptly hung up and whispered, Whatever you said worked. He’s in the car.
Similarly, my friend in California lost her father during a routine surgery. The shock of it left her mother debilitated and she refused to get out of bed in the morning. Her friends intervened, taking turns getting her dressed and making her walk along the shore, washing away grief. Then they would start all over the next day, until two months passed and she was able to rise on her own.
And that’s what Philippe needed. Someone to throw him over their shoulder when he couldn’t breathe at night, strap him into his wheelchair and take him through Paris at 4 am. Someone that wouldn’t indulge his wishes of death. Someone to make him laugh, to shed light in the dark corners of his life, to drive fast and reckless, to smoke a joint and paraglide off a mountain and tell him his teenage daughter is spoiled rotten and needed limits. He craved truth, freedom and life, but he surrounded himself in a house made of glass waiting for someone to cast a stone. Driss did. And some part of Philippe knew he would the moment he walked through his doors.
How many of us are waiting for a stone to be thrown? The truth is sometimes we can’t do it alone. We need someone brave enough to throw the first pitch, call our bluff, so that we can draw in the air around us without fear. And breathe…because no one should ever be untouchable.