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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.
Based partially on the author's uncle, a plainspoken veteran of World War II, Eddie is a man who has worked, almost all of his adult life and into old age, as a maintenance man at a timeworn amusement park called Ruby Pier. He is dogged by the sense that he hasn't made anything of his life -- that, in his own words, "I was nothing. I accomplished nothing...I felt like I wasn't supposed to be there." At the age of 83, Eddie is killed when a ride malfunctions and he attempts to save a little girl from being crushed. After the accident, he finds himself in an unexpected version of heaven -- a set of places he knows intimately from life -- and meets a surprising array of people, each of whom reveals to him a hidden aspect of his past.
These five meetings -- some of which are with people who are strangers to Eddie, others with people he knows intimately -- take this gruff but gentle man through the different stages of his life, and through each new person, some hidden truth is revealed. As Albom unfolds Eddie's story, he gradually sheds light on the web of connections between each individual and a world of strangers, so that life is revealed not as a straightforward story of what we have achieved but as a vast network, too large for us to perceive clearly from the inside. This theme, running throughout The Five People You Meet in Heaven, makes a perfect starting point for discussions of how these hidden linkages are at work in our own lives.
Moreover, this is also a novel that will invite conversations about the most moving and painful parts of life -- love, and the grief that accompanies the death of a loved one. Eddie's encounter with the person he most loved in the living world -- his wife, Marguerite -- is the emotional climax of the book, and Albom explores themes of longing and forgiveness in the encounter between the reunited lovers. In an interview with Barnes & Noble's Meet the Writers, Albom has said that after writing his memoir Tuesdays with Morrie -- which told the true story of his rekindled relationship with a dying former teacher -- he became the "repository" for the stories many readers told him about their own losses. The Five People You Meet in Heaven distills from those true stories a work of fiction that is perfectly pitched to touch upon our own feelings about both life and death -- and our attempts to make sense of both. Bill Tipper
Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1. At the start of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Albom says that "all endings are also beginnings." In general, what does this mean? How does it relate to this story in particular? Share something in your life that has begun as another thing ended, and the events that followed.
2. What initially grabs your attention in The Five People You Meet in Heaven? What holds it?
3. How does counting down the final minutes of Eddie's life affect you as a reader? Why does Albom do this? Other storytelling devices Albom uses include moving from past to present by weaving Eddie's birthdays throughout the story. How do these techniques help inform the story? What information do you learn by moving around in time? How effective is Albom's style for this story in particular?
4. What does Eddie look like and what kind of guy is he? Look at and discuss some of the details and descriptions that paint a picture of Eddie and his place of business. What is it about an amusement park that makes it a good backdrop for this story?
5. Consider the idea that "no story sits by itself. Sometimes stories meet at corners and sometimes they cover one another completely, like stones beneath a river." How does this statement relate to The Five People You Meet in Heaven?
6. How does Albom build tension around the amusement park ride accident? What is the significance of Eddie finding himself in the amusement park again after he dies? What is your reaction when Eddie realizes he's spent his entire life trying to get away from Ruby Pier and he is back there immediately after death? Do you think this is important? Why?
7. Describe what Albom's heaven is like. If it differs from what you imagined, share those differences. Who are the five people Eddie meets? Why them? What are their relationships to Eddie? What are the characteristics and qualities that make them the five people for Eddie?
8. Share your reactions and thoughts about the Blue Man's story, his relationship with his father, and his taking silver nitrate. What, if anything, does this have to do with Eddie? Why does he say to Eddie, "This is not your heaven, it's mine"?
9. How does the Blue Man die? What affect does it have on you when you look at the same story from two different points of view -– his and Eddie's? Can you share any events that you have been involved in that can be viewed entirely differently, from another's point of view? How aware are we of other's experiences of events that happen simultaneously to us and to them? Why?
10. Discuss what it means that "That there are no random acts. That we are all connected. That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind." Even though Eddie hasn't been reincarnated, consider karma in Eddie's life (where Eddie's actions would affect his reincarnation). If it isn't karma, what is Albom telling us about life, and death?
11. Think about Eddie's war experiences and discuss your reactions to Albom's evocation of war. What did Eddie learn by being in war? How did he "come home a different man"? Why did the captain shoot Eddie? Explore what it means when the captain tells Eddie, "I took your leg to save your life." Why does the captain tell Eddie that sacrifice is not really a loss, but a gain? Examine whether or not Eddie understands this, and the significance of this lesson.
12. Discuss what you might say to Eddie when he asks "why would heaven make you relive your own decay?".
13. Examine whether or not you agree with the old woman when she tells Eddie, "You have peace when you make it with yourself," and why. Consider what she means when she says, "things that happen before you are born still affect you. And people who come before your time affect you as well." How does this relate to Eddie's life? Who are some who have come before you that have affected your own life?
14. What is Eddie's father's response each time Eddie decides to make an independent move, away from working at the pier? Examine how Eddie's father's choices and decisions actually shape Eddie's life. Why does Eddie cover for his father at the pier when his father becomes ill? What happens then? Share your own experience of a decision your own parents made that affected your life, for better or for worse.
15. Who tells Eddie that "we think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do we do to ourselves"? What is the significance of this particular person in Eddie's life? Why is this important for Eddie to understand? Is it important for all of us to understand? Why? Discuss whether or not you agree that, "all parents damage their children. It cannot be helped." How was Eddie damaged?
16. Why does Marguerite want to be in a place where there are only weddings? How does this relate to her own life, and to her relationship and life with Eddie?
17. Discuss why Eddie is angry at his wife for dying so young. Examine what Marguerite means when she says, "Lost love is still love. It takes a different form. You can't see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around on the dance floor. But when these senses waken, another heightens. . . . Life has an end. Love doesn't." Why does she say this to Eddie? Do you think he gets it? Discuss whether or not you agree with her, and why.
18. Why does Eddie come upon the children in the river? What does Tala mean when she says "you make good for me"? Discuss whether or not Eddie's life is a penance, and why. What is the significance of Tala pulling Eddie to safety after he dies? Why is it Tala that pulls him to heaven and not one of the other four?
19. What would you say to Eddie when he laments that he accomplished nothing with his life? Discuss what has he accomplished.
20. Briefly recall the five lessons Eddie learns. How might these be important for all of us? Share which five people might meet you in heaven, and what additional or different lessons might be important to your life. Discuss how Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven has provided you with a different perspective of your life.
Posted September 10, 2005
It was a total coincidence that we chose this CD set to listen to while driving a long distance to the funeral of our wonderful cousin...but a good coincidence. While the beginning was a little tedious and formulaic, our hero Eddie goes from a total non-descript in a maintenance worker's shirt to a man with a full wardrobe, reflected in a look-back mirror with 5 different yet important persons in his life. It certainly took the edge off a sad trip.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.