The Five People You Meet in Heavenby Mitch Albom
Eddie is a wounded war veteran, an old man who has lived, in his mind, an uninspired life. His job is fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, a tragic accident kills him, as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination. It's a place where your life is explained… See more details below
Eddie is a wounded war veteran, an old man who has lived, in his mind, an uninspired life. His job is fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, a tragic accident kills him, as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination. It's a place where your life is explained to you by five people, some of whom you knew, others who may have been strangers. One by one, from childhood to soldier to old age, Eddie's five people revisit their connections to him on earth, illuminating the mysteries of his "meaningless" life, and revealing the haunting secret behind the eternal question: "Why was I here?"
New York Times
- Hachette Books
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- Hachette Digital, Inc.
- NOOK Book
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- File size:
- 1 MB
- Age Range:
- 13 - 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
To the reader:
Eddie is an elderly war veteran, a widower who has worked his whole life at Ruby Pier, an old seaside amusement park. His job as the head of maintenance -- the same job his father once held - is to keep the rides safe. Although Eddie, a strong, quiet, barrel-chested guy, is beloved by the kids who come summer after summer, he sees his life as a string of meaningless days. He has done nothing significant, he feels, and has no hope of ever changing that.
On his 83rd birthday, a hot summer afternoon, Eddie is killed in the first accident to occur in all his time at the pier. A cart comes loose from its cable and Eddie dies trying to save a little girl before she is crushed. The following excerpt from "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" picks up after his last moments on earth, when everything goes white, then black.
The sky was a misty pumpkin shade, then a deep turquoise, then a bright lime. Eddie was floating, and his arms were still extended.
The tower cart was falling. He remembered that. The little girl -- Amy? Annie? -- she was crying. He remembered that. He remembered lunging. He remembered hitting the platform. He felt her two small hands in his.
Did I save her?
Eddie could only picture it in a distance, as if it happened years ago. Stranger still, he could not feel any emotions that went with it. He could only feel calm, like a child in the cradle of its mother's arms.
The sky around him changed again, to grapefruit yellow, then a forest green, then a pink which Eddie momentarily associated with, of all things, cotton candy.
Did I save her?
Did she live?
…is my worry?
Where is my pain??
That was what was missing. Every hurt he'd ever suffered, every ache he'd ever endured -- it was all as gone as an expired breath. He could not feel agony. He could not feel sadness. His consciousness felt smoky, wisp-like, incapable of anything but calm. Below him now, the colors changed again. Something was swirling. Water. An ocean. He was floating over a vast yellow sea. Now it turned melon. Now it was sapphire. Now he began to drop, hurtling towards the surface. It was faster than anything he'd ever imagined, yet there wasn't as much as a breeze on his face, and he felt no fear. He saw the sands of a golden shore.
Then he was under water.
Then everything was silent.
Where is my worry?
Where is my pain?
Eddie awoke in a teacup.
It was a part of some old amusement park ride -- a large teacup, made of dark polished wood, with a cushioned seat and a steel hinged door. Eddie's arms and legs dangled over the edges. The sky continued to change colors, from a shoe leather brown to a deep scarlet.
His instinct was to reach for his cane. He had kept it by his bed the last few years, because there were mornings when he no longer had the strength to get up without it. This embarrassed Eddie, who used to punch men in the shoulders when he greeted them.
But now there was no cane, so Eddie exhaled and tried to pull himself up. Surprisingly, his back did not hurt. His leg did not throb. He yanked harder and hoisted himself easily over the edge of the teacup, landing awkwardly on the ground, where he was struck by three quick things.
First, he felt wonderful.
Second, he was all alone.
Third, he was still on Ruby Pier.
But it was a different Ruby Pier now. There were canvas tents and large grassy sections and so few obstructions you could see the mossy breakwater out in the ocean. The colors of the attractions were firehouse reds and creamy whites - no teals or maroons --and each ride had its own wooden ticket booth. The teacup he had awoken in was part of an old attraction called Spin-O-Rama. The sign was plywood, as were other low-slung signs, hinged on storefronts that lined the promenade:
El Tiempo Cigars! Now, That's A Smoke!
Chowder, 10 cents!
Ride The Whipper -- The Sensation of the Age!
Eddie blinked hard. This was the Ruby Pier of his childhood, some 75 years ago, only everything was new, freshly scrubbed. Over there was the Loop The Loop ride -- which had been torn down decades ago -- and over there the bathhouses and the saltwater swimming pools which had been razed in the 1950's. Over there, jutting into the sky, was the original Ferris wheel -- in its pristine white paint -- and beyond that the streets of his old neighborhood and the rooftops of the crowded brick tenements, with laundry lines hanging from the windows.
Eddie tried to yell, but his voice was raspy air. He mouthed a "Hey!" but nothing came from his throat.
He grabbed at his arms and legs. Aside from his lack of voice, he felt incredible, as pain-free as a first grader. He walked in a circle, then a backwards circle. He jumped. No pain. In the last ten years, he had forgotten what it was like to walk without wincing, or to sit without struggling to find comfort for his lower back. On the outside, he looked the same as it had that morning: a squat, barrel-chested old man in a cap and shorts and a brown maintenance jersey. But he was limber.
So limber, in fact, he could touch behind his ankles, and raise a leg to his belly. He explored his body like an infant, fascinated by the new mechanics, a rubber man doing a rubber man stretch.
Then he ran.
He ran down the heart of the old midway, where the weight guessers, fortune tellers and dancing gypsies had once worked. He lowered his chin and held his arms out like a glider and every few steps he would jump, the way children do, hoping running will turn to flying. It might have seemed ridiculous to anyone watching, this stout old man in a brown maintenance jersey, all alone, making like an airplane. But the running boy is inside every man, no matter how old he gets.
And then Eddie stopped running. He heard something. A voice, tinny, as if coming through a megaphone.
"How about him, ladies and gentlemen? Have you ever seen such a horrible sight?..."
Eddie was standing by an empty ticket kiosk in front of large theater. The sign above read
"The World's Most Curious Citizens.''
Ruby Pier's Sideshow!
Holy Smoke! They're Fat! They're Skinny!
See The Wild Man!
The sideshow. The freak house. The ballyhoo hall. Eddie recalled them shutting this down at least 50 years ago, about the time television became popular and people didn't need sideshows to tickle their imagination.
"Look well upon this savage, born into a most peculiar handicap…"
Eddie peered into the entrance. He had encountered some odd people here. There was Jolly Jane, who weighed over 500 pounds and needed two men to push her up the stairs. There were conjoined twin sisters, who shared a spine and played musical instruments. There were men who swallowed swords, women with beards, and a pair of Indian brothers whose skin went rubbery from being stretched and soaked in oils, so it hung in bunches from their limbs.
Eddie felt sorry for the sideshow cast. They were forced to sit in booths or on stages, sometimes behind bars, as patrons walked past them, leering and pointing. A barker would ballyhoo the oddity, and it was a barker's voice that Eddie heard now.
"Only a terrible twist of fate could leave a man in such a pitiful condition! From the farthest corner of the world, we have brought him for your examination…"
Eddie entered the darkened hall. The voice grew louder.
"This tragic soul has endured a perversion of nature…"
It was coming from the other side of a stage.
"Only here, at the World's Most Curious Citizens, can you draw this near…"
Eddie stepped up to the curtain.
"Feast your eyes upon the most unus--"
The barker's voice vanished. And Eddie stepped back in disbelief.
There, sitting in a chair, alone on the stage, was a middle-aged man with narrow stooped shoulders, naked from the waist up. His belly sagged over his belt. His hair was closely-cropped. His lips were thin and his face was long and drawn. Eddie would have long since forgotten him, were it not for one distinctive feature.
His skin was blue.
"Hello, Edward," he said. "I have been waiting for you."
THE FIRST PERSON EDDIE MEETS IN HEAVEN
"Don't be afraid…" the Blue Man said, rising slowly from his chair, "don't be afraid…"
His voice was soothing, but Eddie could only stare. He had barely known this man. Why was he seeing him now? He was like one of those faces that pops into your dreams and the next morning you say, 'You'll never guess who I dreamed about last night."
"Your body feels like a child's, right?"
"You were a child when you knew me, that's why. You start with the same feelings you had."
Start what? Eddie thought.
The Blue Man lifted his chin. His skin was a grotesque shade, a graying blueberry. His fingers were wrinkled. He walked outside. Eddie followed. The pier was empty. The beach was empty. Was the entire planet empty?
"Tell me something," the Blue Man said. He pointed to a two-humped wooden roller coaster in the distance. The Whipper. It was built in the 1920's, before under-friction wheels, meaning the cars couldn't turn very quickly -- unless you wanted them launching off the track. "The Whipper. Is it still the fastest ride?"
Eddie looked at the old, clanking thing, which had been torn down years ago. He shook his head no.
"Ah," the Blue Man said. "I imagined as much. Things don't change here. And there's none of that peering down from the clouds, I'm afraid."
Here? Eddie thought.
The Blue Man smiled as if he'd heard the question. He touched Eddie's shoulder and Eddie felt a surge of warmth unlike anything he had ever felt before. His thoughts came spilling out like sentences.
How did I die?
"An accident," the Blue Man said.
How long have I been dead?
"A minute. An hour. A thousand years."
Where am I?
The Blue Man pursed his lips then repeated the question thoughtfully. "Where are you?"
He turned and raised his arms. All at once, the rides at Ruby Pier cranked to life: the Ferris Wheel spun, the Dodgem cars smacked into each other, the Whipper clacked uphill, and the Parisian Carousel horses bobbed on their brass poles to the cheery music of the Wurlizter Organ. The ocean was in front of them. The sky was the color of lemons.
"Where do you think?" the Blue Man asked. "Heaven."
No! Eddie shook his head violently. NO! The Blue Man seemed amused.
"No? It can't be heaven?" he said. "Why? Because this is where you grew up?"
Eddie mouthed the word, "Yes."
"Ah." The Blue Man nodded. "Well. People often belittle the places they were born. But heaven can be found in the most unlikely corners. And heaven itself has many steps. This, for me, is the second. And for you, the first."
He led Eddie through the park, passing cigar shops and sausage stands and the "flat joints," where suckers lost their nickels and dimes.
Heaven? Eddie thought. Ridiculous. He had spent most of his adult life trying to get away from Ruby Pier. It was an amusement park, that's all, a place to scream and get wet and trade your dollars for kewpie dolls. The thought that this was some kind of blessed resting place was beyond his imagination.
He tried again to speak, and this time heard a small grunt from his chest. The Blue Man turned.
"Your voice will come. We all go through the same thing. You cannot talk when you first arrive."
He smiled. "It helps you listen."
"There are five people you meet in heaven," the Blue Man suddenly said. "Each of us was in your life for a reason. You may not have known the reason at the time, and that is what heaven is for. For understanding your life on earth."
Eddie looked confused.
"People think of heaven as a paradise garden, a place where they can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains. But scenery without solace is meaningless.
"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."
Eddie coughed, trying to bring up his voice. He was tired of being silent.
"I am your first person, Edward. When I died, my life was illuminated by five others, and then I came here to wait for you, to stand in your line, to tell you my story, which becomes part of yours. There will be others for you, too. Some you knew, maybe some you didn't. But they all crossed your path before they died. And they altered it forever."
Eddie pushed a sound up from his chest, as hard as he could.
"What…" he finally croaked.
His voice seemed to be breaking through a shell, like a baby chick.
The Blue Man waited patiently.
The Blue Man looked a bit surprised. He smiled at Eddie.
"You did," he said.
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