Even if for only five minutes, we are all connected in this world.
That’s the message best-selling author and journalist Mitch Albom told an audience of 800 Wednesday night at the Stranahan Theater and Great Hall that he not only portrays in his new book, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, but that we all encounter in life.
Eddie, the amusement park maintenance man and main character who saves a young girl named Annie in the prequel and New York Times Bestseller The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and a grown-up version of Annie in the sequel, encounter characters in heaven in both books who teach them why their lives — including mistakes they made — mattered, Mr. Albom said.
“We stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us, and they stand on our shoulders, and what is learned by one is passed through another, through another, through another, and one life touches another and another and another,” he said.
He spoke about his new book as part of the Toledo Lucas County Library’s Authors! series presented by The Blade and Buckeye Broadband, and arranged by the library.
In the first book, written 15 years ago, readers met Eddie, an 83-year-old war veteran and amusement park mechanic who dies saving an 8-year-old girl named Annie from an accident at the park. When he enters heaven, Eddie meets five people who tell him why his life mattered to others.
Mr. Albom decided to write the sequel and let people know what happened to Annie, after he himself suffered significant loss in his life in less than three years — his mother, his father, and then a young Haitian girl he and his wife, Janine, took in from the orphanage he operates in Port-au-Prince, after she became ill with a rare childhood cancer.
Mr. Albom, 60, dreamed of being a musician when he was growing up, and even pursued that profession in his early years, but he eventually found interest in journalism.
He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Brandeis University in 1979, and two master’s degrees from Columbia University’s journalism and business schools. He worked as a sports reporter and columnist at several newspapers before starting at the Detroit Free Press in the mid-1980s, a move that led to a storied media career in newspapers, radio, and television.
He has written about a dozen books that have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide, including the popular Tuesdays With Morrie released in 1997, a memoir chronicling his visits with former college professor Morrie Schwartz at the end of Mr. Schwartz’s life.
Mr. Albom hadn’t seen his college professor in 16 years when he learned he was dying of ALS, even though he had promised to stay in touch, and told the Stranahan audience that a phone call turned into a visit, which turned into Tuesdays with his college professor until he died. The book idea was planned to help pay the medical debt Mr. Schwartz lamented that he would be leaving his family with when he died.
His experiences with Mr. Schwartz connect with his character Annie, who thinks everything she does is a mistake.
“Sometimes we just don’t realize the mistakes we are making and what they lead to,” he said. “Look at me — for 16 years I made a terrible mistake. I never visited my old college professor, never even called. It was mean, it was insensitive, it was a bad mistake. But it turned out to lead to one of the most seminal experiences of my life. And everybody has that kind of story.”
Besides his book tours, Mr. Albom remains a columnist for the Free Press, and has a talk show on WJR radio. He has a strong focus on charity work through the nine programs he has started under the consortium, S.A.Y. Detroit, to help those in need in his home city.
Three days every month he visits the orphanage where he met Chika, and is working on a new book about his experiences with the little girl that he hopes to release next year.
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