While on a trip I decided to bring the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. Similar to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, I was looking for a quick read for a book that so many rave about.
The premise is simple: an old man dies and goes to heaven. However, heaven is presented not in the traditional Christian way, but as a place where you learn why you lived and have certain life mysteries explained to you. In order to do this, you meet five people who explain one crucial part in your life. For Eddie, the main character, his five people initially seem very surprising, in fact one of them he has never seen in his life. But, as they tell him their story, he comes to learn some important lessons that give him an increasing sense of ease: why he was shot in the leg, how he escaped death at a young age, how his father made an ultimate sacrifice that caused him his life, and more. As the book unfolds, you learn that he must learn these five truths in his life before he can go to his real heaven: the pier where he worked his whole life with his beautiful wife standing there for him, arms wide open.
Throughout the book, Albom splatters short messages about life and love. Eddie has to learn truths not only to understand his role in life, but to forgive people for whatever anger he held against them. As he progresses on his heavenly journey, he discovers that many things are not what they originally seemed. For example, he nearly hated his dad, for he felt he was distant, cold, and uncaring. But, in heaven he watches his dad sacrifice his life for a friend. Or, he learns that his captain in the army shot him in the leg, forever crippling him, which leaves him furious. But then he realizes that the captain was just fulfilling one of his own promises: that he would leave no man behind. Essentially, Eddie discovers that everyone’s life is much more intertwined than he could have ever imagined, and that his judgments were too harsh since he did not know the full extent of everyone else’s circumstances.
This book really made me think about several different things. First, I could not help but wonder what my five people would be. Who in my life has made such a profound difference in my journey so far that I would meet them in heaven? I have a pretty good idea who those five people would be, and it would be interesting to see what they revealed to me once I was in heaven. Given that information, I started to think how the judgments I had put on them were probably erroneous, because there was likely many external factors I was unaware of.
Secondly, I started to think if I would be one of the five for anyone in heaven. Is there someone who’s life that I have touched or affected so much that I could explain to them part of their life in heaven?
Ultimately, the greatest message I took away from this book was this: it’s not all about me. People do not die or live or act a certain way to better me or to spite me. They too are just progressing on their own journey through life, trying to figure it out the same way I am. There is no way for me to know the full extent and details of their own life, the same way no one can fully know the extent of my own. It reminded me of Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, in which the main character explains to her husband that her obligations are first to herself, then to everyone else. How could she possibly love anyone else well if she did not fully understand and love herself first? Although controversial in the play, as she abandons her children and husband in the quest to discover herself, her message does ring true. Everyone is on a quest to discover their purpose in life, and deep down that comes before all else. Therefore I am going to try and be a little less judgmental and a lot more open and loving…after all, who knows who I’ll end up meeting in heaven?