Response: The Five People You Meet in Heaven
The 1st piece of reading for my students’ Critical Reading exercise is taken from Mitch Albom’s ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’. Personally this is one of my favourite books, so I was pleasantly surprised when Lynn chose this to be put on MEL for our students to read and respond to. Although the extract is only from the first 20 pages, I would say that you need to read the rest of the book to realise the beauty of the story.
The End. That is how the story starts. Or ends. Depending on how you choose to read it. At the end of the life of its main character. From the very first instance, this grabs the attention of the reader (who like me would probably have checked to see if she opened the book the wrong way round, or if there is a printing error in the order of the pages!) But no, the point of the story is that we learn of Eddie in the last few minutes of his life, and we read both forward (as Eddie goes to heaven) and backward (as we see him re-look the events in his life). This juxtapositioning of Eddie’s life and to-ing and fro-ing gives both him and us a deeper understanding of his life, which sometimes can only be understood at its end. That is why the first chapter reads: “All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.” If we know that we are living our last day on earth, how would we be living out today? Why aren’t we living each day as if it is the last, but we go on planning our lives for the future, formulating “well-laid plans of mice and men”, but never knowing if tomorrow ever comes. ‘Carpe Diem’, they say. Seize the day. Yet how many of us live, or do we merely survive? Have we stopped to think what it is that keeps our passions flowing, our heart pumping and our pulses racing as we wake up each morning to face a new day? Jonathan Swift used to wish his friends, “May you live each day of your life.” The statement may look like a truism, but it actually requires us to bear much closer examination of our lives.
“Death is more universal than life. Everyone dies but not everyone lives.” – Alan Sachs
In the reading, there is this part which speaks of how no story sits by itself. Employing the metaphor of a river, it says that, “sometimes stones meet at corners and sometimes they cover one another completely, like stones beneath a river.” We never really know or understand the impact we have on other people’s lives, be it our closest loved ones, or students we have taught for a summer, or passer-bys we have stopped to chat with for a few minutes. But regardless, we will do well to treat all whom God places in our life’s paths with kndness, respect and charity — lost words of a bygone civility it seems. And let us remember also that the best things in life are not things, and that when we go to heaven, it is the 5 people we meet, not the 5 most expensive things we ever owned, or the 5 greatest achievements in our lives that get acknowledged. So use our time here wisely such that we invest in things that last for an eternity: people’s souls. And it is always interesting to pause and think: who are the 5 people you will meet when you get to heaven? For all you know, you may be surprised when you get there.