The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, an enchanting, beautifully crafted novel that explores a mystery only heaven can unfold. It is a tale of a life on earth. It’s a tale of life beyond it. It’s a fable about love, a warning about war, and a nod of the cap to the real people of this world, the ones who never get their name in lights.
This book is about the meaning of life. What do we humans live for? Eddie, the protagonist, thought his life was meaningless during his lifetime. After his death, he met five people in heaven. These five people, known and unknown, all played a pivotal role in Eddie’s life. They taught Eddie the meaning and value of life. At last Eddie was relieved. The originally heavy soul also became lighter. Each of us is running towards death. Death is not scary. The scary thing is that we do not know how to live.
Eddie is a grizzled war veteran who feels trapped in a meaningless life of fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. As the park has changed over the years — from the Loop-the-Loop to the Pipeline Plunge — so, too, has Eddie changed, from optimistic youth to embittered old age. His days are a dull routine of work, loneliness, and regret.
Then, on his 83rd birthday, Eddie dies in a tragic accident, trying to save a little girl from a falling cart. With his final breath, he feels two small hands in his — and then nothing. He awakens in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a lush Garden of Eden, but a place where your earthly life is explained to you by five people who were in it. These people may have been loved ones or distant strangers. Yet each of them changed your path forever.
Eddie arrives in Heaven, where he meets “the Blue Man.” The Blue Man explains that Eddie is about to journey through Heaven’s five levels, meeting someone who has had a significant impact upon his life or someone on whom his life had a significant impact. Eddie asks why the Blue Man is his first person, and he informs Eddie that, when Eddie was very young, he caused the car accident that killed him. From this, Eddie learns his first lesson: there are no random events in life and all individuals and experiences are connected in some way.
Eddie meets his former captain from the army, who reminds Eddie of their time together as prisoners of war in a forced labor camp in the Philippines. Their group burned the camp during their escape and Eddie, while running away, remembers seeing a shadow move in one of the huts. The Captain confesses that he shot Eddie in the leg to prevent Eddie from chasing the shadow into the fire. This saved Eddie’s life despite leaving him with a lifelong severe limp. Eddie then learns how the Captain died: he stepped on a land mine that would have killed all the men had he not set it off.
Eddie finds himself outside a diner, where he sees his father through a window. A well-dressed woman named Ruby appears and introduces herself to him. Ruby explains that Ruby Pier was named after her by her husband Emile, who built it in tribute to her. Ruby shows Eddie the true cause of his father’s death, which is different from what he had always believed. She tells Eddie that he needs to forgive his father.
Eddie meets his late wife, Marguerite. They remember their wedding, and Marguerite teaches Eddie that love is never lost in death; it just moves on and takes a different form.
Eddie awakens to see children playing along with a riverbed. A young Filipina girl named Tala comes up to him. Tala reveals that she was the little girl from the hut that Eddie set on fire. Distraught, Eddie breaks down both cursing and asking God “why?” Tala hands him a stone and asks him to “wash” her like the other children in the river are doing to one another. Eddie is puzzled, but dips the stone in the water and starts to scrape off the injuries he had inflicted on her. Tala’s wounds begin to clear until she is freed of all the scars. Eddie asks Tala if she knows if he was able to save the little girl before his death. Tala tells him he did manage to push her out of the way. In this way, Tala explains, he also managed to atone every day for her unnecessary death.
In the end, it shows that Eddie’s Heaven is the Stardust Band Shell, where he met Marguerite.
One by one, Eddie’s five people illuminate the unseen connections of his earthly life. As the story builds to its stunning conclusion, Eddie desperately seeks redemption in the still-unknown last act of his life: Was it a heroic success or a devastating failure? The answer, which comes from the most unlikely of sources, is as inspirational as a glimpse of heaven itself.
Reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven helped me understand deeper about the law of cause and effect in Buddhism teaching. We live in the web of reincarnation of life and death woven by our own karma. Each one of us is connected by the threads in this vast web. Our thoughts, words, and actions all have a small or big impacts to others near and far. What we humans need now is more love, respect, kindness and compassion, and less conflict, fighting and argument.