Mitch Albom is probably one of the easiest-to-read authors I know. I have read three of his works by far, and I am pleased to say that to me, the narratives were not that hard to follow. One of those works I speak of is The Five People You Meet in Heaven.
It follows the story of Eddie, a maintenance man, who died on his 83rd birthday and met five people in heaven who made him understand his life on Earth. It may be an easy read that it only took me less than 8 hours to finish the story, but what enticed me to write about this book are the rather secular, yet beautiful notions of heaven that it presents.
In the story, the first person Eddie met in heaven briefly mentioned that there are five phases of heaven. The first one is where he would meet five people to help him understand his life on Earth.
All throughout his life, Eddie had believed he led a miserable and worthless life. He grew up with anger towards his father who was a drunkard and who had been emotionally distant to him. He lived alone after his wife died at the age of 56 from a brain tumor. And he also had been bitter about the fact that he was unable to leave the Ruby Pier, which served as his home since he was born, mainly because of the permanent leg injury he got while fighting in a war in the Philippines.
Eddie’s five people each shared lessons that made him understand why his life had been the way it was so that he can finally let go of his anger and bitterness that had been in his heart his entire life.
I think this is the first notion of what heaven is.
Heaven is not just a question of where we will go when we die; rather, it is a question of what happens to us afterlife. More than just being a celestial place or “a paradise of garden,” where the souls of good and pure people go when they die, heaven is about understanding what had happened in our lives and having all our whys finally answered so that we can find peace. It is also for us to know that our lives, no matter how miserable they may seem on Earth, are never purposeless.
This kind of heaven gives so much sense to our custom of wishing our deceased loved ones to rest in peace. And personally, I think I’d rather have this kind of heaven than to meaninglessly “float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains.”
“This is the greatest gift God can give you: to understand what happened in your life. To have it explained. It is the peace you have been searching for.”
– The Blue Man, the first person Eddie met in Heaven.
“That’s what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterdays.”
– The Captain, the second person Eddie met in Heaven.
The second notion of heaven I see here is a much simpler one, and it resides within the confines of our present life on Earth.
In the story, Eddie met his five people in different places because, in the second phase of heaven, a person can choose a place to wait for the death of another person, whom he will help make sense of his life in return.
(This is probably where Albom’s plot development falls short for this novel because he is not able to explain what might the next three phases of heaven are.)
Eddie’s five people chose places that were close to their hearts when they were still alive; and that what makes those places, not Eddie’s, but their heaven. Later on, at the end of the story, Eddie chose the Stardust Band Shell in Ruby Pier as his waiting place because this is where he first met his dearly beloved wife, Marguerite.
To me, this means we can always find heaven on Earth. It means that no matter how awful or miserable our lives may seem, there will always be something that will give meaning and hope in our lives, and that we will always find a place that will make us feel safe and peaceful.
This idea also reminds me of a song by Belinda Carlisle that goes:
Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
I guess what I am trying to get at here is that, before we even try to make sense of what heaven will be like afterlife, it will do us more good than harm if we first make sense of what heaven is to us right now as living souls.
So, if you were to choose your heaven, what will it be?
I think finding the answer to this question can shed some light and hope to us, especially when life gets too tough and overwhelming, when we feel down and miserable, and when it feels like we are on our own.