red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Mitch Albom
New York: Hyperion ©2003

 

At one time or another, most of us have probably wondered why we're here, what meaning, value, or purpose there is to our lives, and what difference, if any, we might make to others. The Five People You Meet in Heaven offers a clue.

As a follow-up to his bestselling Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom offers a warm and surprising novel. The story starts out as simplicity itself: an old man named Eddie wonders if there's been any value in his life of fixing rides at a run-down oceanside amusement park. Then, on his 83rd birthday, he is suddenly killed in an accident, as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. When Eddie wakes up, he finds himself in a heaven that's not the spectacular vision we so often picture. Instead, it's a space where he meets the people who explain his life.

The connections are fascinating. Almost like the plot of a mystery, the story moves back and forth between events at the amusement park before and after Eddie's death and the encounters in heaven with 'his' people. We learn about Eddie's life through asides labeled "Today Is Eddie's Birthday" and come to empathize with his situation. We see how even remote-seeming relationships create connections that come to fruition over the span of a life. Each is there for a reason.

Much of Eddie's experience on Earth involved amusement parks, carnivals, and the 'outcast' collection of people who make such places their home. From this environment comes the Blue Man, the first person Eddie meets in heaven and the person who begins the explanation of Eddie's life. "...Heaven can be found in the most unlikely corners. And heaven itself has many steps. This, for me, is the second. And for you, the first...." There's also wonderful humor throughout the book and in this early encounter. When Eddie tries to speak to the Blue Man, he finds he can only grunt. The Blue Man responds that Eddie's voice will come, that new arrivals can't talk. "It helps you listen."

With that bit of introduction, the Blue Man says, "There are five people you meet in heaven.... Each of us was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for. For understanding your life on earth.... I am your first person, Edward. When I died, my life was illuminated by five others, and then I came here to wait for you, to stand in your line, to tell you my story, which becomes part of yours. There will be others for you, too. Some you knew, maybe some you didn't. But they all crossed your path before they died. And they altered it forever." What follows is the first of Eddie's many surprises.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven offers an interesting twist on an age-old question and it does so in a way that engages your heart. While the premise may seem fanciful, the essence of meaning rings true. With fiction as the vehicle to impart the message, we sense truths that, otherwise, may be too impossible to believe.

 

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