Mitch Albom: Thoughts on death, making every minute count
MANILA, Philippines – Few authors have written about death the way Mitch Albom has—with huge doses of sensitivity, sincerity, and imagination; even fewer have become worldwide celebrities because of it.
In Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom accompanied his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz, throughout the last few weeks of the latter’s life and wrote a compelling memoir that also served as Morrie’s “final course.” Over 14 weeks, Albom distilled lessons from Morrie’s life and philosophy, sharing thoughts on death, regrets, money, family, love, forgiveness, and many other things in between. The book went on to become a global hit, topping the New York Times best-seller list for at least 205 weeks and selling at least 15 million copies in at least 41 languages worldwide.
Albom has since written a number of tomes—both in fiction and non-fiction—dealing with death, the afterlife, and human mortality. They might make anyone feel desensitized to the idea of leaving the world behind.
But he is quick to point out that it’s not the case for him.
“I’d be lying if I said ‘I’m ready for death—bring it on,’” Albom shares in a one-on-one interview with Rappler. “I’m not ready for it; I don’t think anybody’s ready for it… Nobody knows until they face it.”
“But if you ask me, ‘Do you want to face it?’ Absolutely not. ‘You want to go tomorrow?’ Absolutely not. ‘Do you love life?’ Absolutely, I do. ‘Even with all of its problems?’ Absolutely, I do. ‘Do you want it to go on for a long time?’ You bet—as long as it’s possible.”
“Make every day precious”
Albom has admitted through the years that writing Tuesdays with Morrie changed his life and made him switch from being a career-driven, adrenaline-fueled “classic workaholic” to someone who prioritized “time off over money.”
He shares another insight from one of his latest books, The Time Keeper, when Father Time converses with a character who wants to live forever.
"'There’s a reason that God limits your days… and the answer is to make each one of them precious,’” Albom quotes Father Time.
“To me, that’s the great equation of life: the reason that we don’t know when it’s going to end is because that’s what makes every day precious. If I told you, ‘You have a million years to live,’ you wouldn’t care about today or tomorrow... But if you don’t know tomorrow’s your last day or not, then today is very precious to you.”
“I try to live my life like that, thinking, well, I don’t know. Tomorrow could be that day. So let’s make sure that today contains at least some of what life is supposed to be about.”
Live with gratitude, help others, and never lose hope
For Albom, a secret to making every day count is to start each day with awareness and gratitude.
“It may sound a little corny, but the first thing I do in the morning… is pray,” Albom shares. “In my prayers, I always thank God for everything that’s happened up to that minute when I’m praying from the time I woke up… How many things up to this point of the day—10 minutes into the day—do I have that other people don’t have?”
Albom knows that he has much to be grateful for, but he also knows the ugly flipside of gratitude—that for every person who can give thanks are many others who live on the brink of despair.
“Despair is a terribly cruel word, and it’s a terribly cruel way to find yourself in life,” he says soberly. “And I feel terrible for those who are in despair, and they’re the ones we need to help the most.”
True to his word, Albom has used his popularity to bring help where it is most needed. Aside from using the proceeds from Tuesdays with Morrie to pay for Morrie Schwartz’s medical bills, many of Albom’s book sales have been used to fund charitable causes.
During his recent trip to the Philippines, Albom established the Donated Reading for Youth of the Philippines (DRY Philippines) program, which aims to reconstruct 10 libraries in Yolanda-affected areas. He pledged to help raise $160,000 for construction of the libraries, starting with a personal donation of $10,000, to be matched “dollar for dollar” by the National Bookstore Foundation in the Philippines. He also enjoined other American authors to donate copies of their own books and get bring back reading to the young schoolchildren affected by Yolanda.
Hope is another essential ingredient of Albom’s life. His take on the matter: “Hope, like most emotions in life, sometimes goes underwater… But as long as you know you’re gonna rise back up again… It’s a little bit like the sun going behind the clouds. I don’t forget about the sun, I just don’t see it. So you have some moments when you’re not so hopeful, you have some moments when you’re a little bit depressed… but it doesn’t mean you forget how to be hopeful. It doesn’t mean you don’t believe that hope will find its way back to you again.”
Saying goodbye, paying tribute, looking back
In two of Mitch Albom’s iconic works, he paid tribute to loved ones who had passed on. In his work, we saw the beautiful ways he honored and remembered friends and family.
His second worldwide bestseller after Tuesdays with Morrie was The Five People You Meet in Heaven, the story of a journey into the afterlife from the perspective of Eddie, a theme park maintenance man who dies of a freak accident. The character was inspired by Albom’s own uncle, Edward Beitchman, who Albom said “gave me my first concept of heaven.”
The book almost never happened, thanks to naysayers who believed that a non-fiction writer like Albom “can’t write fiction.”
However, to everyone’s surprise—including Albom’s—The Five People You Meet in Heaven became another New York Times #1 Bestseller, selling over 10 million copies in at least 35 languages worldwide
“I think that was Morrie rewarding me for not cheapening him,” Albom quips.
Meanwhile, his latest book, The First Phone Call from Heaven, tells the story of the people from a quiet community in Coldwater, Michigan whose lives are turned upside down when reports surface of dead people calling their relatives from “heaven.”
Would he want to get a phone call from heaven?
Albom’s quick reply: “Sure, who wouldn’t?”
He waxes nostalgic about another uncle of his who was “like a second father”, who died of cancer when he was only 42 and the young Albom was only 21.
“His children were only 5 and 7 years old at the time. The last thing I said to him when he got into the elevator to go to the hospital—what turned out to be the last morning of his life—‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of the kids.’ I don’t know why I said that; it just blurted out of my mouth.”
Albom looks up with a faraway look, and smiles as he continues, “His children have grown up to be wonderful young men. They now have children of their own; the little one just had a baby. And I think I would love to just hear my uncle’s voice again and say, ‘Remember that last minute when I saw you and I said I’d take care of the kids? Well… they turned out okay, and you’d be proud. You have a granddaughter and two grandsons. Does that make you happy?’ I’d like to ask him that. That would be nice.”
Albom hopes to know the answer when he meets his uncle again—but not yet too soon, he prays. He has plenty more stories to tell, and many more lives to awaken and inspire. – Rappler.com
Video by Toni Alvarez