In An Instant, by Lee and Bob Woodruff

A cousin handed me this book during last Christmas as we were chatting about books, current events, and family. “You want to borrow this one?” he asked. “It’s good.” So I put it on my stack and recently sat down with it as I began to recuperate from shoulder surgery.
I’d occasionally read nonfiction of this journalistic type before, but it had been awhile. In the interim, such celebrity journalism as a genre has blurred to a degree similar to that of the most postmodern fiction, creative nonfiction, and biography – and that’s a good thing. Written by both husband and wife, the story centers about ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff and his near-fatal wound during an IED attack in Iraq, where Bob was reporting live. Lee and Bob wrote alternating segments of this book, these snippets moving back and forth in time, giving the couple’s personal histories as well as how Bob moved from near-death to normal life. Such back-and-forth allows for a perspective that transcends a single, simple narrator’s telling. It provides both the personal and family drama within the context of world events leading to Bob’s injury.
It serves little purpose here to go into detail regarding Bob’s suffering, Lee’s shock, the stress Bob’s injury put her and their children and extended family through as they waited to see whether Bob would live. Suffice to say that the family demonstrated the best of human faith and persistence in supporting Bob throughout his crisis. Clearly, the Woodruffs’ extended family is of a goodly sort, a loving, supportive clan.
But a couple of things bothered me about this story. First, both Bob and Lee came from well-off families, which allowed them the latitude to take on lifestyles that are simply not real to most of us (the import of this concern will be more evident as I wander, below). They attended private secondary schools, elite colleges, and then almost fell into lives and careers that most of us might only gain through a more typically American process of clawing and scratching. One thing that exemplifies the relative ease this couple was afforded in moving into glamorous careers in exotic places was their considering a surrogate mother to have their children so as not to interrupt Lee’s – and Bob’s – lives with the inconveniences of pregnancy and child birth. To their credit, they rejected this option – something most of us hardly know exists.
The substance of Lee and Bob’s story, then, is that the prospect of death is the Great Equalizer, no matter how sheltered one’s life might have been. Even so, the Woodruffs had the benefit of complete support by the military community, the ABC corporate structure, and their own family’s financial resources. Still, Lee, while demonstrating pluck throughout this family crisis, writes as if Bob’s situation were an anomaly, a black cloud of bad luck the family could hardly bear.
I had to think of the less fortunate soldiers and Marines and their families, who continue to suffer similar injuries stoically with little of the medical and financial resources showered on the Woodruffs. And it’s only after Bob recovered and began visiting the rather shabby hospitals we afford our own wounded combatants that it dawned on him how fortunate he’d been to be swarmed by teams of attentive doctors and nurses, who provided him with the best medical technology has to offer.
My second troublesome moment with this book has to do with its projected readership. We in the U.S are so fascinated with the rich, beautiful, and celebrated that more and more we seem to deprive ourselves of our own dignity through such idolatry.
True, America has thrived on the promise of bettering our own lives, but we seem to increasingly forget the values inherent in being a good person living an uncomplex life. The Woodruffs seem good people. But they also seem ones who have been handed the brass ring in life. Their attitude toward such good fortune appears to this reader akin to that of Marie Antoinette who, when told of France’s starving masses during the French Revolution, suggested they eat cake if they had no bread. As such, Bob and Lee’s story is one of vulnerability to the normal ebbs and flows that most of us take in our daily stride. Fascination with lives such as theirs, then, seems a fey attempt to wish away such normal ups and downs. In that context, I can’t help but think of a recent bit of shtick by comedian Bill Maher, who gave examples of how the rest of the world see us U.S.-ites, not as admirable or even dangerous, but as a mass of silly, silly people.
Still, Lee Woodruff, who clearly had the most to do with this book’s writing, is a most adept wordsmith. Some of her prose would stand with the best that American journalism has to offer. And Bob, too, must be congratulated for attempting to make sense of his crisis and reducing it to the page. Even with my crabby concerns, this book is a decent read, something from which any reader might gain insight into the human condition as well as into the foibles of modern times in these United States.


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