Growing up, the young Jacques seemed almost intoxicated with life. He was forever running "the whole of my childhood was spent running."
Only I was not running to catch hold of something. That is a notion for grown-ups and not the notion of a child. I was running to meet everything that was visible, and everything that I could not yet see. I traveled from assurance to assurance, as though I were running a race in relays.
He recalls a vivid moment of self-realization on his fourth birthday when he was running along the pavement toward a triangle of light. "I was being projected toward this pool of light, drawn up by it, and, waving my arms and legs, cried out to myself: `I am four years old and I am Jacques.'"
Before his accident, he was fascinated above all by light. He spent hours watching it flow over the buildings and streets of his neighborhood. Even darkness held light for him, but "in a new form and a new rhythm . . . . Nothing in the world, not even what I saw inside myself with closed eyelids, was outside this great miracle of light."
Then one Easter holiday as his family was preparing to return to Paris from a country vacation, the young boy was overtaken by the sadness of a strange presentiment. Surveying the sunlit garden of his country home, he began to cry. When his mother asked what the trouble was, he answered, "I am never going to see the garden again."
Three weeks later the accident occurred. Bumped by a fellow student in a classroom, his head fell against the corner of a desk, and the rigid frame of his glasses gouged deeply into him. One eye had to be removed, and the other, with a badly torn retina, was completely blind.
Here it must be said that one of the miracles of Lusseyran's book, although it emerges mostly as unspoken background, is the miracle of his parents. Beyond the first few pages his parents are scarcely mentioned, but what he does say in those first pages bears just about the highest praise any parent could hope for:
My parents were protection, confidence, warmth. When I think of my childhood I still feel the sense of warmth above me, behind and around me, that marvellous sense of living not yet on one's own, but leaning body and soul on others who accept the charge.
My parents carried me along, and that, I am sure, is the reason why through all my childhood I never touched ground. I could go away and come back. Objects had no weight and I never became entangled in the web of things. I passed between dangers and fears as light passes through a mirror. That was the joy of my childhood, the magic armour which, once put on, protects for a lifetime.
This going and coming, this weightlessness or lightness of being, incidentally, is a far different matter from the too-shrilly-celebrated freedom and weightlessness of cyberspace. The latter sort of weightlessness is often spoken of today as a feature of the world of "digital" bits rather than the world of "physical" atoms. But the lightness of the young Jacques was a consequence of his incessant running to meet the things of the atom-world and his discovering that all these things, when truly engaged, speak the weightless language of light.
Amazingly, even after Jacques' accident, his parents never suggested in any way that he was "deprived" of the light, or that he suffered a deficit or handicap. The accident was treated matter-of-factly, like all other events of childhood, and the assumption was that, just as before, Jacques would continue doing all the things his circumstances allowed, without special fuss.
And why should he have been treated as a special case? As Lusseyran himself says,
Children never complain against circumstances, unless of course grown-ups are so foolish as to suggest it to them. For an eight-year-old what "is" is always best. He knows nothing of bitterness or anger. He may have a sense of injustice, but only if injustice comes from people. For him events are always signs from God.
The stance of Lusseyran's parents meant that in an era when this was almost unheard of he continued going to the same school he attended before, where he received First Prize in his class at the end of the next year. Eventually he would enter an elite Upper First Class in the University. Later, after passing tests for the highest educational institution in France, the cole Normale Sup rieure, he would be denied entry by the collaborationist government at Vichy. Why? Because of his physical "defect."