Saturday, October 16, 2004

Five People You Meet in Heaven: Spoiler Alert, don't read if you are waiting for me to pass you the book.

I actually managed to finish Mitch Albom's "Five People You Meet in Heaven" in between pretending to do assignments and my naps. Well, I can't exactly remember what his "Tuesdays with Morrie" was about, but I remember feeling inspired to seize life and make full use of it, as well as feeling touched and wanting to tell my loved ones just how much they mean to me after reading Tuesdays.

In contrast, "Five People You Meet in Heaven" just left me thinking. It is a thoughtful piece and I am surprised that Albom actually touched on the story at three different levels simultaneously, such that you read about his past, his present (i.e. in the so-called heaven) and how his death affects the rest of the world (or not). I must admit I am impressed by the way the story is woven using this technique (and if I were still churning out narratives like I used to in Secondary School, I'd be tempted to try this).

Anyway, back to the story. You would expect a book on heaven to be religious in some manner, but surprisingly, there are barely traces of ideology, but plenty of reflection on life and what it means to be alive. In this version of heaven (well, I'd talk about the various versions of hell if I remember), there are no singing cherubs and fluffy clouds (thank goodness!) or your wildest fantasies coming true (that I heard is called Paradise). Instead, the moment you step into heaven, you are transported to a time from your past, to meet the first of five people waiting to see you. These five people have somehow crossed paths with you, and are waiting for you to explain their parts in your life, and to teach you a lesson.

The main character Eddie dies while saving a little girl from a freak accident in the amusement park in which he was working as a maintenance officer. Eddie meets The Blue Man, someone who worked as a freak in the amusement park during Eddie's childhood. The Blue Man explains how each life is interlinked with so many others that we are all part of a big story. Sometimes, life is unfair and tragedy strikes someone else instead of you, but you move on...

Next, Eddie meets the Captain from his war days, and his horror in the war was relived. Eddie finally learns of his captain's sacrifice, and also of the meaning of sacrifice.

Ruby, third of Eddie's five, explains about forgiveness, and leads Eddie to see that he needs to let go of his hatred of his father, and how his father is deep down a different person from what Eddie thought he was.

Eddie finally sees his wife next and they relive their love. Marguerite teaches him that lost love is still love and instead of feeling depressed that our loved ones have departed us, we should honour them with our memory.

Eddie's fifth teaches him about mistakes and killing. Or at least, I think the little girl that Eddie has unwittingly killed during war is trying to do that. She is the one who explains to Eddie what his seemingly pointless existence as a maintenance officer entails-- keeping children safe.

After you reflect and learn five lessons about your many yesterdays, you get to choose a version of heaven, which may be a period in your life you want to relive. Here, you wait in line for others to reach heaven, so that you can tell them what their purpose in life is.

It's really thought-provoking and I must say it's an appealing version of heaven. I am always afraid that my existence is pointless, which is why I chose teaching, for I know it'd definitely impact someone, even if I am good enough only to influence one soul positively. Despite the lack of religious dialogue, I still find myself thinking about God and what He wants us to achieve in life. We are here for a purpose, but how do we know what?


It is unimaginable if no heaven exists and I die without knowing why I am here. Or if I die and be relegated to mere ashes and memories. Perhaps I should be inspired to make meaning in my life for myself, to see why I am here, instead of living without understanding, and thus feeling sad when alive, like Eddie was.

If I indeed meet five people in heaven, would you be one of them?

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