The Five People You Meet In Heaven: Book Review
The Five People You Will Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
Mitch Albom wrote the novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, in 2003 and it was instantly well-received and remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for almost 96 weeks. The protagonist, Eddie, dies on his 83rd birthday while trying to save a girl on an amusement park ride. The rest of the story is told while he occupies heaven and goes on a journey in Heaven meeting five individuals who had a significant impact on him while he was alive along the way. The five people Eddie meet are the “Blue Man”, his former army captain, Ruby, Marguerite, and an Asian girl named Tala. In meeting each of these people, Eddie learns significant lessons about life, love, forgiveness, interconnectedness, and death.
First he encounters Joseph Corvelzchik, a man named the “Blue Man” due to his suffering from silver nitrate poisoning while working at the amusement park that Eddie worked at. Through this first conversation, Eddie learns that he is dead and that he is in Heaven. In order to complete Heaven, he has to go through five levels where he will meet another person at each stage who either significantly impacted his life or is someone who Eddie significantly impacted their life. Additionally, during this journey of completing the five stages, Eddie will find that he will feel the same way that he did when he was alive and met the person that he is encountering in heaven. So for the five stages he will feel a combination of young, old, healthy, strong, sick, and weak as he did when he was alive. Eddie learns his first lesson from John, which is that there are no random or stochastic events in life and that all experiences and the individuals that one meets are connected in some way.
Eddie meets his second individual in a Philippine rainforest. This is his former army captain and he has a long conversation with him. This man and Eddie both served in World War I and caught up on their time together as prisoners of war in a labor camp. In this important exchange, he learns that the captain was responsible for shooting Eddie in the leg – an impairment which Eddie had cursed for his entire life and is part of the reason why he could only work at the amusement park – in order to prevent him from making a stupid choice while trying to leave the labor camp. More importantly, Eddie learned that the captain had died before leaving the labor camp as he ran into a land mine in the path of the truck that Eddie and a few others were in while Eddie’s leg was being attended to. Without the captain setting off this bomb, many others including Eddie would have died. The quote, “Sacrifice is part of life. It’s not something to regret. It’s something to inspire to” is an important takeaway from this encounter. Through this conversation, Eddie learned the value of sacrifices and the importance of peoples’ willingness to sacrifice, both large and small things, for one another.
The next individual that Eddie meets is a lady named Ruby, who he soon finds out is the woman that the amusement park that he worked at, Ruby Pier, is named after. After a long story about connections and dramas that Eddie was not previously aware of, Eddie learns the lesson of releasing anger and forgiveness of those that caused us to hurt. In this healing process, Eddie forgives his father who had given him much trouble when he was alive. An impactful quote from this section is that, “Holding anger is a poison It eats you from inside.. We think that by hating someone we hurt them.. But hatred is curved blade.. and the harm we do other others.. we also do to ourselves.” This beautifully poignant and illustrative metaphor emphasizes that every person and relationship we have with them is a mirrored reflection of ourselves. Therefore, we ought to treat everyone in a way that we would like to be treated and importantly, forgive them swiftly and love them, even when they have done us hard.
After going through a series of doors which takes him to various weddings of different cultures, Eddie is reunited with his late wife, Marguerite. The weddings are a symbol for Marguerite’s affinity for weddings, and as they move together from one wedding to the next, they are able to catch up on all the things that had occurred since Marguerite passed away. The lesson learned here is that love is never lost in death and that it persists long after by taking different forms. This conversation breaks barriers between the two as they both admit, for the first time, their guilt and feelings that they had to of one another. For instance, while Eddie regrets his guilt of not making more out of his life and leaving the amusement park, Marguerite assures him that she loved their simple life together and that the only thing she regrets is that they did not have kids. Eddie also shares this remorse and through tears that are able to unite in forgiveness.
Lastly, Eddie meets a young child named Tala. Eddie is surprised to meet her last because he does not recognize her. Although they are unable to communicate at first because of language differences, he eventually realizes that she is one of the individuals killed when him and his army team set the labor camp on fire in order to flee during the war. Upon seeing the burns on Tala’s body caused by the fire, Eddie breaks down, cursing to God and asking why this had to happen. Eventually Eddie asks for God’s forgiveness and Tala requests for him to wash her in the river with a stone that she provides. Although uneasy and unsure of what to do at first, Eddie eventually takes the stone, dips it into water, and is able to scrape of all the injuries, wounds, and burns that had been imparted on Tala during her death.
Eddie asks one question of Tala: whether the girl that he had pushed out of the way when the amusement park ride collapsed the day he died had been saved. Much to his appreciation, he had indeed saved her and Tala tells him that he will be one of the people that this little girl meets in Heaven once she is old and dies as well. The lesson learned from Tala is that Eddie’s life was not for nothing and that his purpose in life was to protect all of those who visited the amusement park by maintaining the rides and preventing failures, which he had always done. She also explains that through these actions and his profession, he was able to atone, daily, for Tala’s and others’ unnecessary deaths.
At the end of his journey in Heaven, Eddie is taken to the Stardust Band Shell; the location where he met Marguerite. At this time, he is shown a vision of all the individuals that he had managed to protect and save while working at the amusement park while doing his work. He also realizes that not only had he saved these individuals but also he saved their childrens’ children and down many generation. Thus, the work he despised all his life actually had wonderful cumulative effects that benefitted many people. He is reminded, once again, that you impact the life of each person that you meet and that it is all connected; we all live one big life.
Indicate the book’s relevance to the course
This course has discussed the relationships between family members and provides a foundation to understanding society through the lens of family and consumer welfare. One of the focuses of the class has been understanding and developing interpersonal dynamics and relationships since this is the backbone that shape’s family development. These themes are illustrated in Albom’s novel and are evident in his discussion about past relationships between characters. In the course we also talk about family relationships, family composition, life span issues, and gender roles; all of these topics are mentioned in Albom’s novel especially the issue of life span. The course also stressed individual empowerment and gaining skills that will prepare students for independent living and self-directedness in the workforce. Overall, this course has helped prepared students for work life, careers, and most of all, family life and The Five People You Will Meet in Heaven provides tangible examples of these developments and reminds us that there is an end to life and that every moment is worth cherishing.
Integration and synthesis of at least 5 concepts/issues learned in class and how they relate to the book’s themes and/or premises of the author
There are certainly more than five concepts that we covered in class which are important to Albom’s novel. One is that we must care for everyone and treat them the way we wish to be treated; the golden rule. Eddie learns this lesson in life from John in that there is a kind of determinism and interconnectedness of life experiences and with the people you meet. You never know what kind of consequence you will have on one person’s life but you ought to make it as positive as can be because this action might be reflected back to you in some form or another. As stated by Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian religions or lines of beliefs, this book emulates that there are simply “no random acts in life.”
Another idea loosely covered in class is that everyone has a purpose. The novel emphasizes that there is always a purpose for life. You might not know what it is, but it is definitely there. Additionally, we have learned the fundamentals of being a productive individual in the work force. And this novel elucidated, for me, that know matter how big or small our job, work or task is (such as working at an amusement park), it is having an impact on other peoples’ lives. This impact could be enormously positive, such as savings’ ones life, and you might not even realize it, just as Eddie never did until he reached Heaven.
Forgiveness is an important action in creating a loving family dynamic. This novel emphasizes the importance of forgiveness and accepting those who wronged you in a loving light. In the class we have also touched upon the idea of love. Eddie’s late wife, Marguerite, teaches him the power of love and how important this can be even after death has struck us. Love can take many forms, big and small, and permeates or exists even after a loved-one is taken from us.
The book’s effect on your thinking and attitudes about group dynamics and/or leadership
While I don’t necessarily belief that we live a predetermined life, I do think that we impact, in some way or another, that lives of each person that we meet. It might be impossible to know exactly how you impacted these peoples’ lives but it would be really wonderful to find this out upon arriving to Heaven. This taught me some values about group dynamics in that we will impact all those who come into our lives and therefore we should approach teamwork and groups in a light that wishes the best unto others. It also taught me that leadership comes from oneself and that we should initiative forgiveness and love to those who we might have had troubles with. There is no need to wait until reaching Heaven to make these strides. Rather, we should aim to resolve conflicts and forgive those who have wronged us while here on Earth.
The most impactful quote of the book for me was the following: “It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed.” Overall, this book changed my perception of death. It reminded me to appreciate every moment, every connection in life and that our death is just a beautiful culmination of these events that might even positively impact the lives of someone else. It also changed my mind about work that some might consider “menial” such as being a maintenance worker at an amusement park. It made me realize that any task, no matter how small, could have a profound impact on the lives of others, therefore, we ought to move forward in life with a smile on our face and hard work ethic to be the best we can be and bring joy, health, and protection to others. Another quote that struck me is that “all endings are beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.” This reminded me that we never have all the answers or explanations for why things occur. Even when we think a horrible thing has happened, such as a death or life-threatening illness, there might be some beginning or hugely positive act that will come from this tragedy. Thus we should seek to find the silver lining in all the darkness and even if we don’t, perhaps we will become enlightened of these connections once in Heaven.
Albom, M. (2003). The Five People You Meet in Heaven. New York: Hyperion.