“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” — Steve Jobs
By Alex P. Vidal
HILLSBOROUGH, New Jersey –– Have you ever read a book that begins at the end?
It might seem strange to start a story with an ending, but all things are also beginnings; we just don’t know it at the time, writes Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie, in his 2003 follow-up book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven.
This long-awaited enchanting, beautifully crafted novel “explores a mystery only heaven can unfold.”
Albom starts with a narration of Eddie’s last hour of life which was spent at Ruby Pier, an amusement park by a great gray ocean.
The park had the usual attractions, a boardwalk, a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, bumper cars, a taffy stand, and an arcade where you could shoot streams of water into a clown’s mouth, Albom describes.
It also had a big new ride called Freddy’s Free Fall, and this would be where Eddie would be killed, in an accident tha would make newspapers around the state.
Albom reminds readers that at the time of Eddie’s death, he was a squat, white-haired old man, with a short neck, a barrel chest, thich forearms, and a faded army tattoo on his right shoulder.
“His legs were thin and veined now, and his left knee, wounded in the war, was ruined by arthritis. He used a cane to get around,” Albom narrates.
“His face was broad and craggy from the sun, with saltry whiskers and a lower jaw that protruded slightly, making him look prouder than he felt. He kept a cigarette behind his left ear and a ring of keys hooked to his belt. He wore rubber-sold shoes. He wore an old linen cap. His pale brown uniform suggested a workingman, and a workingman he was.”
In Eddie’s final moments, he seemed to hear the whole world: distant screaming, waves, music, a rush of wind, a low, loud, ugly sound that he realized was his own voice blasting through his chest.
The little girl raised her arms. Eddie lunged. His bad leg buckled. He half flew, half stumbled toward her, landing on the metal platform, which ripped through his shirt and split open his skin, just beneath the patch that read Eddie and Maintenance. He feels two hands in his own, two small hands.
A stunning impact.
A blinding flash of light.
And then, nothing.
Eddie is a grizzled war veteran who feels trapped in a meaningless life of fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. 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,” Albom stresses.
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, promises the book.