HENRY FRASER IS one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.
Prior to the accident that transformed his life, Henry was intelligent, gifted and handsome, which most of us would agree is quite enough to be going on with. Circumstances had not yet arranged themselves to reveal what an exceptional person Henry truly was. Then he went on holiday with his friends, dived into the ocean and everything changed in a second.
I first came across Henry’s story by chance. I’d only visited the Saracens rugby club website to check the details of a fixture mentioned in a whodunit I was writing. Henry’s story caught my eye and, in the grand tradition of all novelists doing research, I promptly abandoned what I was supposed to be doing and read something far more interesting.
A few weeks later, my friend and agent, Neil Blair, began telling me the story of a young man whom he had just taken on as a client. The story sounded very familiar. ‘Neil, this isn’t Henry Fraser, is it?’
And so, with a shared agent as my excuse, I got in touch with Henry. We chatted online for a while and finally met at his first art exhibition, which documented his mouth-painting journey from first drawings to beautiful, fully realised paitings. He made a speech that night that will, I’m sure, have staye with everyone who heard it. His honesty, his modesty, the unflinching way he described both his accident and the way he had adapted to and was making the most of a life he had not expected, were astonishing.
I follow Henry on Twitter and regularly chat with him by Direct Message. Most people respond to him the way I didh: admiration tinged with awe. Occasionally, though, I watch him dealing with another kind of attention. One woman told him he was being punished for stupidity in diving into the ocean from the beach. A man jeered at him for conning everyone; how could he use Twitter if he were really paralysed?
You can almost smell the fear in these unsolicited comments. Accepting the reality of Henry’s story means thinking about challenges and privations that some find too terryfying to contemplate. Apportioning blame is a way of trying to deflect the simple truth that annybody’s existence may undergo a sudden, irreversible, unavoidable change.
We humans are more fragile than we like to think. Fate forced Henry Fraser down a terrifyin path for which no preparation was possible. He had to find his own way back to a life worth living and in doing so he revealed himself to be a person of extraordinary perseverance, strength and wisdom. He pushes himself both physicaly and mentally, exceeding expectations in every direction, raising money for cuases he cares about, his art becoming more accomplished with every drawing and painting he produces.
Above all, Henry is living proof that acceptance and aspiration are not mutually exclusive. How many of us can truly say that we accept the present facts of our life, while living it to its fullest extent? It is understandable to rage against present limitations, but sometimes we make them our excuse not to act, not to do all that we can: for ourselves, for others, for the world.
Henry remains intelligent, gifted and handsome, but he is now something more, something rarer: someone truly inspirational. He is remarkable, not for what happened to him, but for what he makes happen. This book is merely his latest achievement, and nobody who knows him doubts that there is much more to come. I’m truly proud to count him one of my friends.
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