The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Simple and comfortable lessons of life. You die and meet 5 familiar people in heaven who tell you about the meaning of your life, so you can understand, and move on.

This is the story of Eddie, an old maintainance guy at Ruby Pier, and it begins with his death.Eddie, who dies saving a little girl’s life on a ride that goes wrong, has largely considered himself useless. After he wakes up, in “heaven”, Eddie learns that he will meet 5 people who will help him to make sense of his life. The first person Eddie meets is the Blue Man, a circus freak at Ruby Pier. He was inadvertently the cause of the Blue man’s death when as a boy, Eddie ran in front of the car, giving a shock to the Blue Man’s already weakened heart.

It is because the human spirit knows deep down that all lives intersect. death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed. .. we think such things are random, but there is a balance to it all. One withers and the other grows. Birth and death are part of a whole. It’s why we are drawn to babies… and funerals.

The second person Eddie meets is the Captain, who was in charge of his unit. Eddie has a leg wound incurred in the war. He has always felt that his wounded leg was the cause of him not moving anywhere else, making a fresh start in life in another city, for staying stuck in a dead-end job to the end of his life. He learns that the Captain had actually shot him while rescuing Eddie. He learns to forgive the captain.

Young men go to war. Sometimes they go because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Always, they feel they are supposed to. This comes from the sad layered stories of life which over the centuries have seen courage confused with picking up arms, and cowardice confused with laying them down.

All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, and a few shatter childhoods completely, beyond repair. Then Eddie meets Ruby, wife of the owner of Ruby Pier, and gets surprising insights into his father, who has not been the best of dads, or the best of role models to Eddie. He learns to forgive his father.

Parents rarely let go of children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them – a mothers approval, a fathers nod – are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories and their accomplishments , sit upon the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives.

By the time Eddie meets Marguerite, his beloved wife, we are getting the idea that this is a sappy feel-good kind of tale. Surely, the notion that love can cross over and make the deceased person very happy is a bit of wishful thinking. Marguerite says,

Lost love is still love, Eddie. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes their partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it. Life has to end, she said, love doesn’t.

The last person Eddie meets the girl who died in the fire when they bombed a village where the Captain and a few comrades were being held as prisoners of war.
By the end of the book, one cannot help but be moved by its simple message, and yet… the cynic worm in the heart flips. The message is simple, and will do well for those who can find comfort in simple messages, for those who can find repose in concepts of God, and who can believe that if you are a generally a decent person, there is a place waiting for you in some sort of heaven, and your life will be explained.

While this novel remains an excellent tribute to Albom’s “uncle Eddie”, and to every average guy who thinks his life is not special, it is not a book that works for me, or affords me a lot of comfort. The answers of life, its meaning and the purpose, are perhaps not meant to be explained away. For me, it makes more sense when Douglas Adams says the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.

However, Albom writes some beautiful epigrams, and one of them is the last sentence of the book, where Eddie takes his spot in the line, waiting for the little girl whose life he saved during his last moments, to tell her

…his part in the secret of heaven: that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.

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5 Responses to “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”

  1. Thanks for this fine review! Have encountered references to this book on numerous occasions, but never got around reading it

  2. @N: you are quite welcome, my dear.

  3. i believe it has been filmed, and you might catch that.

  4. @tushar: fellow hyderabadi and lurker on your page.

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