Local author demonstrates courage

June 23, 2015

Book Reviews

The Promise (A Tragic Accident, a Paralyzed Bride, and the Power of Love, Loyalty and Friendship)
by Rachelle Friedman
Globe Pequot Press, 2014. $24.95

Rachelle Friedman and Chris Chapman, both from Virginia Beach, met at East Carolina University in Greenville, N. C., in 2004. Their falling in love would lead to a planned wedding for June 27, 2010, following Chris’ romantic proposal on July 11, 2009. A tragic accident on May 23, 2010 during the bachelorette party with Rachelle’s four close girlfriends present, would so very suddenly interrupt and change the lives of all concerned, particularly Rachelle’s.

A very active, sports minded woman who enjoyed cheerleading, aerobics, dancing and surfing, Rachelle became permanently confined to a wheel chair. She chose, however, not to be limited, but rather determined to endow her life with new meaning and purpose through assisting others with spinal cord injuries. One of Rachelle’s girlfriends, whose identity has not been revealed in an otherwise very revealing book, playfully, and with no intent whatsoever to hurt Rachelle, pushed her into the swimming pool causing her to break her neck and become quadriplegic.

Not revealing the anguished girlfriend’s name was no accident. It was the deliberate outcome of a pack among Rachelle and her intimate girlfriends in order to protect the one friend whose misfortune was to be directly involved in a very unsettling accident. It is reflected in the book’s title, The Promise, the promise made by very special women to each other to never disclose their friend’s name, fearing that she was too vulnerable to withstand the media focus and onslaught, and even be risking suicide. Moreover, it would be unfair to expose one of their own who had no idea of the painful and lasting consequence of her seemingly minor act, given that she already paid a high price of guilt and anxiety attacks, with her life forever affected by what happened to Rachelle.

Throughout this truly unique and inspiring account written by a remarkable, mature, courageous and even heroic woman, it becomes clear that inseparably connected to Rachelle is her abiding and loving concern, to the point of obsession, for the anonymous friend’s well-being, aiding Rachelle in her own healing as she reaches out to support her emotionally, deeply wounded friend.

“Helping her heal became my mission. Her happiness would be the final piece to mind. I wasn’t healed until she was…I became her spine. I channeled optimism for her. I wanted to save her. I knew I would be fine, but I didn’t know if she ever would be.“ What a moving expression of Rachelle’s altruistic, noble spirit and her principled, loyal bond of friendship! In fact, she turned down an invitation to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show that was conditioned on both her and her anonymous friend discussing the theme of forgiveness. However, she would have no lack of coverage, enjoying wide exposure on major media outlets. We should note that the anonymous friend protected Rachelle when she was blamed for trying to financially take advantage of her injury.

There is no lack of humor, providing for a measure of helpful laughter to ease the natural stress of such a cumbersome ordeal with an ongoing healing process of ups and downs, as when Rachelle’s wheelchair toppled. The indispensable support Rachelle abundantly received from her husband Chris, her parents, brother and friends has made all the difference and, of course, the fact that Rachelle is far from ordinary, beautiful within and without, before the accident and following it. She is even playing now on an all men rugby team as well as surfing, reflecting a tenacious and triumphant spirit rising to meet a mighty challenge.

The provided information from the United Spinal Association is enlightening concerning those who suffer from spinal cord injury, with 1.2 million people worldwide affected by it, and an additional victim every 41 minutes in the United States. The Reading Group Guide at the book’s end is also appreciated.

There is much to learn for everyone from this unusual book of honest, dignified and instructive sharing by one who underwent a life-changing experience, not just physically, and who wisely bids us not to take our “simple,” daily blessings for granted. Let us be aware of the precious opportunity for the human factor to make a critical difference, when confronted and challenge by a major adversity that can either defeat us or enable us to grow in ways we could not imagine, through Rachelle’s uplifting example. “While I don’t believe that” everything happens for a reason, ”I believe we can give anything a purpose, even a negative situation. Good things came from my injury because I made the decision for that to happen, not because it was predestined to happen. “

—Rabbi Israel Zoberman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Chaverim in Virginia Beach.

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