When I started Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, I had already convinced myself that the book was going to be as flaky as baklava. I was certain that it would be a tacky spin-off of Michael Landon’s Highway to Heaven with the sap content of Touched by an Angel.
By God, I loved the book and the essential concept that we are constantly crossing silent intersections with people who may be directly influencing our life’s path. When I read that Mitch Albom was launching his first non-fiction book since Tuesdays With Morrie at Indigo tonight, I knew I had to be there.
Two weeks ago I sprinted from work with a stitch in my side to see Jane Goodall promoting her latest: Hope For the Animals. I was cursing my last hairy-backed client because I arrived 15 minutes before she graced the stage and the lower level of Indigo was like a Boxing Day sale. I had to choose between a pole obstruction or a Jolly Green Giant obstruction. Why is it that the 6 foot + set like to be in the very front? For most of the interview with Jane I saw only her left eye sandwiched between a woman with hair that was as high as it was wide, and a shifty guy who kept scratching something weeping on the back of his neck. Then there was the teeny bopper directly in front of me who proceeded to stand on her tiptoes every few minutes and adjust her ponytail in front of my face.
I wanted priority seating. I wanted there to be skill-testing questions on Jane Goodall that would earn true fans better seats. At the same time, I was thrilled that so many people had made it a priority to see and hear what Queen Jane had to say about chimps, the Earth and the hope that she sees in it all. She drew a crowd like free ice cream bars would at Yonge and Dundas square.
So, this time I was smart. I arrived an hour and a half early for Mitch Albom with a tall skim African Red Bush Tea Misto in hand. I even brought my glasses for high definition (not necessary with the previous pole and people obstructions with Jane). I assessed the crowd of New Age nerds, seniors with snow white hair and Werther’s candies and a large contingent of the over-40, Mr. Rogers cardigan-wearing set. The seats were soon filled, but the place wasn’t like the zoo it became with Jane Goodall in the house.
Albom’s visit to Indigo was a Canadian exclusive, and I was surprised that more hadn’t flocked to see the Oprah-approved writer promote his latest, Have a Little Faith. Given my faith in Albom and his ability to write books that make one think, I was eager to hear the behind-the-scenes snippets of his newest work.
Albom began by sharing the inspiration for the story, and explained how an 82-year-old rabbi from his hometown asked him to write his eulogy. He had known the rabbi for a long time, but not well enough to know his essence. Eight years later (the rabbi lived to be 90), Albom had a solid grip on the rabbi, and an intense education on the life of a man of God. Still, he was amazed that the rabbi wore Bermuda shorts and sandals with socks, and answered his own doorbell.
And then he introduced another vital character: the pastor at a scruffy church in Detroit with a hole in the roof that let God and the rain in–in equal amounts. The pastor had promised God his life after robbing his own drug dealer and praying to survive behind a trash can with a shotgun. He lived, and fulfilled his promise with a self-imposed detox and gratitude for a second chance after a shaky as a Polaroid beginning. The pastor grew up impoverished, in a home where they left rice out for the mice so the vermin wouldn`t bite them while they slept. At 18, the pastor was charged with manslaughter (wrongfully) and imprisoned. When he was released from prison, he found solace in drugs, and in as sketched out state and desperate for a fix, he robbed the most lucrative source he knew, his dealer. That was the night he was introduced to God and submitted his resume for immediate employment in the House of God.
Have a Little Faith was written to emphasize that we all need to find something bigger than ourselves to believe in. And although the Detroit pastor and 82-year-old rabbi had more differences than commonalities, they had both found comfort in faith.
This is when the book launch turned into a sermon and I started reading the quote on my Starbucks cup so I wouldn`t get sucked into the cult. Mitch Albom pointed out that we were all children of God and dictated his polished story of how babies enter the world with closed fists. He spoke in that therapeutic voice designed to stay with you and shape your life without you being aware. He told us of the rabbi in his dying days, and how the rabbi realized that babies come into this world not knowing what to expect. They have clenched fists, holding everything because they think they deserve it and are entitled to it. The ailing rabbi opened his hands before Albom and showed him how he would die—with open hands. Because you can`t take anything with you. The crowd laughed in unison like Woody Woodpecker when he pointed out that a nice car won`t help you get to the afterlife, but faith will.
I was beginning to get distracted at this point. Maybe because after seeing Africa, I believed even more strongly that there couldn`t be a God. There`s even a documentary narrated by Nicole Kidman about the Lost Boys of Sudan called God Grew Tired Of Us. That`s how the Sudanese feel, like God grew tired of them and abandoned Africa altogether. But, they pray with such conviction and hope, with a trust that is unmatched.
Albom pulled the threads together by closing with his thoughts on the interconnectedness of faith and happiness. This is where I might have started my obvious sneering. I do think many find great comfort in this combination, but I think happiness can also be a stand alone, without faith.
I wandered off, choosing not to buy the book (I`ll give it a go when it becomes available in paperback), and ended up in the Well Being section, because I was indeed feeling well after a shiatsu treatment and Chinese steamed pork buns. I found Julia Cameron`s The Artist`s Way on display and leafed through it for the twentieth time. My friend Heidi is contemplating it as well, but we are both hesitant on exposure to the supposedly life-altering words inside.
I picked up Oprah`s latest, because, confession here—sometimes I like to buy her glossy magazine and read all that gut-grilling stuff. DREAM BIG! O`s Guide To Discovering Your Best Life held more potential for me than Have a Little Faith. (Editor`s Note: If it was have a little Faith Hill, yes, sign me up!)
I flipped to O`s section on Five Things Happy People Do by Gabrielle LeBlanc (just to see if church was one of them). This is what I found, and will share with you so you can be happy as well.
1. Realize one`s golden self through eudaimonic well-being. Eudaimonia, for those not fluent in Oprah-speak, is striving toward excellence based on one`s unique talents and potential. Meaning: take on new challenges and follow one`s sense of purpose.
2. Design your life to bring joy in. Whether it be a relationship or a career, it`s difficult to abandon dreams even when they turn sour. Make deliberate changes, NOW. A study conducted out of the University of California San Diego had 900 women write down everything they did the day before. They had to evaluate how they felt at each point with each activity. Many of them cried realizing how much of their day was spent being unhappy.
3. Avoid If only…. fantasies. If only I were skinnier, if only I had more money, if only I had finished my degree…We misjudge contentment by zeroing in on one single aspect of life and are fooled by the focusing illusion. In a study where participants were asked how happy they were with their life in general, and how many dates they`d had in the last month, the answers were dramatically different according to the order of the questions. When asked about dating first, thoughts of their romantic life influenced the overall happiness response more negatively.
By keeping our life full of novelty, the pressure is alleviated from unrealistic expectations from partners or work, to solely fulfill happiness.
4. Put best friends first. More joy is derived from spending longer quality time with close friends than chatting with acquaintances. (Obviously the author of this entry doesn`t Twitter or Facebook.)
5. Allow yourself to be happy. Even the Dalai Lama says it`s cool in his books. We can`t save the polar bears and poor Africans all at once. Dalai says it`s okay to pursue personal happiness and help others simultaneously. Whew.
Basically, everything you own should have value. Either because it`s functional, beautiful, or you just love it.
And that`s happy in five easy steps. Just like making Kraft Dinner. If you need and want faith to get you there, fine. If pumpkin pie for breakfast is the critical omission to this checklist, go, be happy with your pie and morning paper.
Find your own brand of faith and indulge. Make your very own Happy Meal.
If you have more faith than I do, check out– http://mitchalbom.com/books/node/5515
And for more on Jane Goodall`s latest– http://www.janegoodall.org/product/hope-animals-and-their-world#