A Tale of Heaven

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Title: The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Author: Mitch Albom
Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Yes, I know, at every turn this book is being foisted off on you. Go into any bookstore and you get 30% off. The tables at Costco (where I bought it for still less) are littered with copies of it and you are faced with the ominous promise, "Mitch Albom author of Tuesdays with Morrie.

Well, I liked Tuesdays with Morrie even if occasionally I felt as if I were being lectured. The same holds true for this novel. I like it. I like it a lot. But there were places where I felt that the tone was a trifle strident, a trifle overbearing. But to be honest, that is because I am so sensitive to "message books." And this obviously IS a message book.

The intent of the story is somewhat similar to It's a Wonderful Life in showing the interconnectivity of the entire human community. It is sort of summed up in the first "lesson"

from The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Mitch Albom

"You say you should have died instead of me. But during my time on earth, people died instead of me, tool. It happens every day. When lightning strikes a minute after you are gone, or a an airplane crashes that you might have been on. When your colleague falls ill and you do not. We think such things are random. But there is a balance to it all. One withers, another grows. Birth and death are part of a whole.

"It is why we are drawn to babies. . ." He turned to the mourners. "And to funerals."

The story is told in a series of episodes that cover the main character's life. Eddie is a maintenance man at a pier side amusement park who dies trying to save a young girl's life. He does not know if he is successful.

The premise is that once you reach heaven you meet five people who help you to understand what you life was all about. They might be people you knew intimately, they might not. Each of them has some important role in who you are and what you have become.

The episodes include Eddie's Birthdays, the people he meets, the lessons they share and some moments on Earth after Eddie's death.

The book is quite short and does pack a punch here and there. I'm not ashamed to admit that I got choked up three or four times in the course of reading--the sign of very effective writing.

Because the time commitment to this book is so small (an-hour-and-half to say three hours) I cannot help but recommend it. Yes, there is much ground that has been trodden before. Yes, I think there are some flaws with the theology and the vision of heaven. But all told, it does us well to be reminded that we are part of a community. "No man is an island. . . if a clod be washed from Europe, Europe be the less. . . ." This is always a salutary reminder, as we too readily sink into ourselves and into the "Pilgrim" experience of John Bunyan of every man for himself until you reach the shores of salvation. And it's much more like we're all swimming for the heavenly shore--millions and millions of us. Sometimes we're so close and crowded, we impede each other's progress, sometimes we are allowed to pull one who is floundering from beneath the waters and hold him or her up briefly--long enough to catch breath before we're swimming again. But in one way or another our success, while entirely dependent upon Jesusí sacrificial love is also dependent upon the broken creatures we swim with. We are all one body--and one body is not saved without its arms or legs--though it can be. It is against the nature of a body to allow these parts to go missing--and so we work with one another in our struggle to obey God.

A parting word:

"Sacrifice. . . you made one. I made one. We all make them. But you were angry over yours. You kept thinking about what you lost.

"You didn't get it. Sacrifice is part of life. It's supposed to be. It's not something to regret. It's something to aspire to. Little sacrifices. Big sacrifices. A mother works so her son can go to school. A daughter moves home to take care of her sick father. . ."

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2 Comments

An excellent set of novels which also highlight the interconnectedness (?) of us all (and which also happen to be written by a great Catholic author) are Michael O'Brien's books:
Strangers & Sojourners, The Plague Journal, Eclipse of the Sun, and Father Elijah - his latest Cry of Stone is just out.

You won't feel lectured though the messages are many and you will feel a sense of the richness of your faith. It has been some years now since I've read these - I believe I'll read them again before I read the new one.

Thanks for the overview - it sounds good.

By the way, I agree with John's recommendation (below) on the O'Brien books; they are very good.

Jay

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 29, 2003 7:51 AM.

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