Review by Jeffrey B. Allen / Author of Gone Away Into the Land

My review of Elise Crawford’s book A Promise Kept

I will post my review but this story of hers merits a commentary on our society. When a senseless crime hits the news we, as a people, are stunned, appalled, and frightened. Most of all we are confused because we are left without an answer and we feel defenseless. Crawford’s story personalizes one crime against society as well as any book or journalistic piece I have ever read.

The description on the front cover of the book says, “The story of one widowed bride’s journey through grief.” I would write that statement and then times it by two. But, what do I know about going through such a horrific life experience? What do most of us know? Maybe it should be times ten. Fortunately for the majority of us we are spared tragedies such as the one Crawford experienced.

Elise Crawford tells a tale that one could just as easily credit to an experienced writer of fiction. Except the story she tells is absolutely true and, therefore, cuts to the bone so much so that at times the heartbreak makes it necessary to stop reading just to gather your emotions.

We all hear of horrible tragedies. Fortunately, very few of us go through them, and very few of us even know someone who has experienced a personal tragedy on the magnitude described in Elise Crawford’s journey through grief.  Most of us look into the glass of an electronic tube or at the picture emanating from a plasma screen and watch with a morbid, detached, rather strange sense of outrage, if not curiosity. We flip the channel away if it’s uninteresting or if there is something better to watch on another station. The television has a way of separating us from horrible things, causing us to be callous and perhaps insensitive to what is really human about it all. Furthermore, we are barraged on a continual basis by fictionalized television shows and big screen cinematic movie productions that reenact the drama of tragedy, carnage and human suffering for its entertainment value. It is not our fault entirely we have trouble connecting emotionally with real tragedy — until it hits us personally. In all fairness, however, there are those who feel deep concern for their fellow human beings who may be suffering through natural disasters, famine, war, or heinous crimes of violence. Their generosity is to be commended and sometimes it is unexpected and often overwhelming for the families affected.

In Elise Crawford’s telling of her story, she brings an honest strength into her writing that does not allow us to detach. We feel every moment of the day her fiancé, a Seattle bus driver, was shot and killed while driving his bus on his regular route. The bus happened to be on one of Seattle’s many highway overpasses. As Mark slumped down in his seat, after two or three bullets had lodged in his body, his skilled hands could no longer control the direction of the crowded bus, so the tandem vehicle plunged over the edge of the elevated highway and fell several stories onto a neighborhood of row homes and innocent people who were going about the routines of their daily lives. Torn to shreds by an unprovoked act of brutality were the lives of men, woman, and children, some killed instantly, others died during hospitalization, and still others were traumatized to such an extent that to project the long term ramifications is impossible.

Elise Crawford, in A Promise Kept, depicts the events of her life, previous to meeting Mark, as a hard life but one she accepted while struggling to protect her two young children and better herself through honest work and continuing education. When she met and fell in love with Mark, her life filled with joy as if for the first time. He eventually proposed to her, she accepted, and they soon bought a house where their dream of being a family, united by love, marriage, and faith could be realized. The prospect of a bright and full future with the true love of her life was for once within Elise’s grasp. Mark, as described by Crawford, was a remarkable man. He seemed content with who he was. He must have been extremely intelligent because his sense of responsibility blended in perfect harmony with his sense of humor; a sign of character and intelligence that should be admired if not emulated. He was playful, loving, and devoted.

Crawford does not lay out the facts of her story in a foreboding manner, or with any hint of self pity, but with tenderness and brevity. She accurately depicts, for the reader, the bedlam that ensued the day Mark was shot. The fog of confusion descended onto the city of Seattle that day and into the life and heart of Elise Crawford. Elise does her writing in a journalistic style, always conveying to the reader her perspective on the events and imparting the feelings and thoughts that were racing through her mind in a surreal way. She explains the outpouring of support by the transit department and other city services, and she leads the reader through the endless ceremonies and tributes that were paid to Mark for his service to the city. All of these were what you would expect when something like that happens to a civil servant who is killed in the line of duty, although they were for Elise like a bad dream that soon mixed into a tangled disconnect from reality. She explains with great passion her grief, and she tells how the uncontrollable onset of depression caused her to almost loose her children.

Elise Crawford should be commended for portraying an incident of devastation that changed her life forever and stole away her dream and promise of sharing life with her true soul-mate. Not many of us can imagine going through something like that. We cannot imagine the strength it would take to persevere, and we cannot imagine the anger one would harbor toward the perpetrator of such a senseless crime. But Elise Crawford tells her story with straight-forwardness and with such a sense of purpose that anyone who has or is currently experiencing a devastating personal loss will no doubt draw inspiration from reading this book.

Although, I appreciated the well written and organized accounts of what happened on the day of the tragedy, what impressed me most about A Promise Kept were the ways Crawford went about depicting her fall into the bottomless pit of sadness. I was heartened by the few, yet significant, fortunes that came her way, but then dashed by the awesome weight of her misfortunes during the months and years that followed.

The inspirational aspect of her story comes, not only out of her strength in the immediate aftermath, but her perseverance in the face of manifest futility to eventually pull herself from the terrible grip of despair, and, all the while, managing to raise two wonderful children, who, by all accounts are now young adults forging their own pathway through the unpredictable maze.

I commend Elise Crawford for writing her story. It must have been very difficult to recount the events of Mark’s death, and I can only try to imagine the many emotions that were replaying as she wrote the words on the pages of her book.

There can be nothing left for this humble reviewer but to recommend A promise Kept to all adult readers; not just to those who may have had, or are currently going through a similar tragedy, but to all people. This inspirational story will help some of us to uncover in our hearts what we know is already there – true compassion for our fellow man.
Personal note recieved from Jeffrey Allen worth mentioning:

Dear Ms. Crawford,

In response to your questions concerning my review of A Promise Kept:

I write long reviews because I present reviews similar to the one I wrote for your book to book-clubs and reading groups. One has to be a bit wordier when speaking in person. Besides – I am very wordy anyway.  I stopped fighting it years ago.

I felt Mark’s remarkable personality gave the book the underlying human factor that it would have lacked had you not spent the time, and done such a great job, at establishing your love for him.  In fact, you did such a good job that I am sure every-one of your readers will also love him. There you go; the makings of a book worth reading.

I think the problem with thinking of the book as only a self-help book, or thinking of it as a piece of literature with its purpose on Earth to help others cope with a similar ‘doomed to gloom scenario’ is wrong thinking.  It can be that for those who have problems that are similar – but it can also be so much more.

I have lost. I have had my share of grave disappointments, and I have had brushes with disasters that may have come close to what you experienced, but that puts me into the 99 percentile. Fortunately for our society, we have not reached total anarchy; therefore, situations like the one that happened in Seattle that fateful day are rare in comparison to the activity that buzzes through the daily lives of 300 million Americans.  Having said that, I could not begin to say your book helped me in the way you may want, but it helped me a broader sense, and it is that particular quality of your book I think is the most appealing.

I know some of the events I referenced in my review were not exactly the way you portrayed them, however, I was not so much interested in the facts as the feeling I got, or the images that were planted in my mind by your description of Mark’s bus as he innocently performed his normal duties as a Seattle transit worker. I can honestly say I cannot shake some of those images.  The whole scene is very disturbing. As a result of your authoring those moments so well, you have achieved what some writers’ only dream of achieving. You have invoked powerful emotions, let them be anger, compassion, sorrow, fear, whatever, but that horrid and senseless incident is something that plays in all of our minds as Americans because it is happening all too frequently, and none of us can put our finger on why. Your story is not one about you and your loss but of what we lost on that fateful day as a society.

I hope I have explained my feelings toward your book and why I wrote my review more as a commentary on its subject than a validation of a book everyone should pick up who has suffered a loss like yours.  That is something I could never do . . . because my compassion for you, after reading the book was less than my compassion for the loss of Mark, with his larger-than-life personality, sense of humor, generosity and humility and his inherent ability to pass along his values to his family, friends and colleagues, and by default, the generations to come after him. Mark’s senseless death became, for me, bigger than you and bigger than him.  It is another vital slice of who we are as a people that was lost that day.

We can ill afford to lose more of ourselves. Each unprovoked violent act causes our chins to hang closer to the ground. A continuation of unbridled anger will inevitably lead to an America filled with people who live within a cloud of guilt, fear and shame.

I recommend A Promise Kept to anyone who has gone through or is going through a similar tragic loss of a loved one. But, I also recommend A Promise Kept to all adults. Reading your story may help us all realize that we must be much more diligent in working within our communities to stem the tide of senseless aggression.