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Rod Cate, “Get Back Up: A Memoir on How to Not Allow a Devastating Life-Changing Event to Ruin Your Quest for a Great Life” (Mobile, Ala: Rod Cate, 2018), ISBN 9780692140888; $8.99, 118 pp.
By Mike Thomason/Contributing Writer
One of the advantages of reviewing a book is that you must really think about your task. It isn’t good enough to say “this is a good beach read” or ”everyone will like this story.” You have to really analyze the book and say something meaningful about it. If you can’t do that, you are not much of a book reviewer.
Perhaps it’s easier if you wish you had written the book, or think it says everything you’d like to say. I can’t do that in this case because my life story and Rod Cate’s are so different. He was a standout athlete as a boy, whereas I could not do anything with a ball, no matter its size or shape. He had a large, diverse and well-fixed family; I did not. He was a great success with girls from junior high on. I was a disaster until I met my wife many years later; she was from another country and probably did not know what to look out for.
He lived in North Carolina and went to Davidson and then Chapel Hill for law school. I am from the depths of South Florida, went to Sewanee and then Duke for graduate school in history. We both made good grades but his were better. He loved law school; I did not like Duke. We both did think highly of our college experience and our colleges were similar. However, Sewanee was remote on a Tennessee mountain and all male when I was there. Davidson was close to Charlotte and had female undergraduates.
I am a quarter century older than he. He made a lot more money than I ever did, I feel sure, but in the end we both found ourselves in Mobile and made our careers here.
Finally, he is an optimist, despite the problems life threw at him. I am more pessimistic for no really good reason. Even though we have both been in South Alabama, we have never met. Perhaps we will have an excuse to do so now.
Until age 15, Cate believed his life couldn’t have been better. Then as he was playing high school football for the first time, he broke his neck and was immobilized, a paraplegic. For the next three months he fought to regain any use of his body, first in a hospital and then in a rehab facility. Every day his mother came to be with him and cheer him on as he slowly recovered. This book is dedicated to her.
Fortunately his spinal cord was badly bruised, but not broken. He worked hard to recover control of his body, and to a remarkable extent he succeeded. Eventually he could even walk, though it was obvious that he had received a serious injury, and that would never change.
Nonetheless, he went back to high school, and on to college and law school. He was determined to have a normal and fulfilling life, and not be a prisoner of his injury. In his own words, he did not want to be a “handi” (a handicapped person) and he very largely succeeded. Bright, well educated, charming and very competitive, he beat the odds.
How he did so was unique to him. He figured it out and kept going, simply sure he could live a happy, successful and normal life. “Get Back Up” is his story, not a guide for the rest of us to follow, except as regards to attitude. He is an organized and disciplined person, and he is also happy. Depression could not conquer him, and he urges readers not to let it conquer them if they hit a rough spot in their lives.
The book helps the rest of us to understand what a real lawyer, not a TV “ambulance chaser” for whom he has little respect, does to earn a living. It involves long hours of preparation before the trial, taking depositions (sworn pretrial testimony from potential witnesses) and carefully building your case. This can take months or longer before the trial ever starts. He has been a defense attorney for several of Mobile’s well-known firms and now defends doctors. Whatever the profession of his client, he has had to learn a great deal about that field. Many long hours are all part of the game and his determination to do his job, and belief that he can — a product of a life recovered from his accident — serves him well.
“Get Back Up” is written in an easy style and is interesting throughout. It is divided into short chapters that tell the story in chronological order. It is very tempting to read the next chapter, so this is a book that is hard to put down. The author is quite open about his personal and professional life, and his chapter on Christianity and his beliefs is particularly honest. He does not shy away from questioning his own faith. He is equally open about his sex life and his love of his own family. There is a warmth to this slender volume which few books can match. That comes from his determination to enjoy living.
In his last chapters, Cate does offer several points of advice for others. They all hinge on a person taking responsibility for whatever affects their life. Then they must deal with them as best they can. Everyone has challenges, some greater than others. But we all have only one life and it is up to us to live it as well and happily as we can. Additional details of his advice must come from reading the book. Regardless of your background and life experience you will be glad you read it.
If your local book store does not carry “Get Back Up,” online dealers including Alibris and Amazon do.
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