This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Five People You Meet In Heaven" by Mitch Albom. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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Do you ever wonder how we are all connected? Can small moments turn into life-changing acts?
The question of how we are all connected is one of many that is explored in The Five People You Meet in Heaven. The main character, Eddie, finds out how we are all connected during his journey in the afterlife.
How We Are All Connected
Eddie was isolated and lonely in his life. Faced with the loss of his wife early, and estrangement from family, Eddie became bitter, and stopped asking him important questions like are we all connected. In the afterlife, Eddie learns important lessons about how we are all connected.
The End is the Beginning
This story begins at the end, on the day that a man named Eddie dies. Like most endings, Eddie’s death is also a beginning, even though he doesn’t know it. He’s about to find out how we are all connected.
Eddie spends his final hour at Ruby Pier amusement park, a place that he has worked for most of his life. He is the maintenance man, so his job is to maintain and fix the park’s many rides, attractions, and games. After so many years, he can detect problems with the rides just by listening to them. He is an old, resilient man. He has the stature and dress of a workingman, which is exactly what he is.
Eddie walks with a cane now because of a knee injury he got in the war. He has white hair and a strong, barrel chest. Despite Eddie’s past of alley fights in his youth, the park’s regulars trust Eddie and children like him. Many people have taken to calling him “Eddie Maintenance,” like it says on his name tag. He doesn’t think that’s funny.
Today is Eddie’s 83rd birthday. If he had known he was about to die, he would have gone somewhere else and done something new. He had always dreamed of leaving Ruby Pier behind and starting a different life. But he never got around to leaving after the war. So, he goes about his last day as he did every other.
With thirty-four minutes left to live, Eddie walks into the amusement park maintenance shop. There, he talks with Dominguez, one of the fellow workers. Dominguez tells Eddie that he is planning a trip to Mexico with his wife. Eddie takes out 40 dollars, hands it to “Dom,” and tells him to get his wife a nice gift. Then, he walks away.
With only 19 minutes left in his life, Eddie goes to sit in his special spot. It’s an old aluminum beach chair that he has placed behind the ride where he first met his late wife Marguerite. The ride used to be called the Stardust Band Shell in those days. The night they met, Eddie and Marguerite danced together on the boardwalk. Listening to the sounds of the ocean, he visualizes that moment, which he considers the snapshot of true love. Eddie used to think of his wife all the time, but lately, he tries to forget the pain like an old wound.
Eddie’s daydream of Marguerite is interrupted by a young girl with blonde curls. Eddie has seen her around the park many times before, but can’t remember her name. Annie? Amy? She asks him to make her an animal out of the pipe cleaners he is known to carry in his front pocket. He twists up a small, yellow bunny for her, and she dances away, smiling.
All of a sudden, Eddie hears screams and immediately knows something is wrong. Looking up, he sees the cart of the Freddy’s Free Fall ride dangling at a dangerous angle. The passengers are terrified. He calls to Dom and the rest of the park maintenance and security teams. He gives everyone directions of how to handle the situation. He tells them to evacuate the passengers from the ride, then send the broken cart down to be examined.
Eddie could never have known this, but a few months earlier, a young man lost his car key at Ruby Pier. He had been keeping it in his jacket pocket while he rode the rides. As it turns out, the key had fallen and become lodged in Freddy’s Free Fall and had been slowly wearing away at the cable. There was no way to see that this was happening. Every person’s story overlaps with someone else’s.
Just as the passengers are being taken off the dangerous ride, Eddie realizes that there must be something wrong with the cable. He screams for Dom to keep the cart at the top, but it’s too late. He sees the cart hurling toward the ground. Just underneath, the little girl with the pipe cleaner bunny is crying out for her mom.
Without hesitation, Eddie runs toward the girl, ignoring the pain in his injured knee. He jumps toward her and feels her small hands just before the impact and a flash of light. Then, he feels nothing.
In heaven, the Blue Man explains, you will meet five people. Each of these people played an important part in your life, even if you didn’t know it at the time. Meeting these people is meant to help you understand the meaning of your life.
Although Eddie wants to ask the Blue Man questions, he finds he cannot speak. The Blue Man tells him that when you first arrive in heaven, you lose your voice so that you can listen. However, Eddie manages to make out one question—he asks how the Blue Man died. Slightly surprised, he smiles and says that Eddie killed him.
On the day of Eddie’s birthday, the Blue Man had been practicing his driving in a friend’s Ford Model A. All of a sudden, he saw a baseball bouncing across the road, and a young boy chasing after it. The Blue Man slammed on the breaks and swerved out of the way to avoid hitting Eddie. He lost control of the car, and suffered extreme stress. The Blue Man had a heart attack behind the wheel and died alone at Ruby Pier.
The Blue man asks Eddie if he understands. Eddie shivers.
How We Are All Connected: Tala’s Story
Eddie’s fifth person is a girl named Tala. Eddie doesn’t know who she is at first, but soon sees how we are all connected to each other. Eddie sees the other children in the water around them. They are bathing with stones. Tala says that is how their mothers used to wash them. Then Tala notices pipe cleaners in Eddie’s shirt. He twists up a little dog for her. He asks her if she likes the toy, but she answers “You burn me.”
Tala tells Eddie that she used to have to hide from soldiers. Eddie is horrified because he knows that she was the shadow he saw in the flames the day of his escape from captivity. Looking into Tala’s eyes, he is heartbroken. He begins to sob and wail, asking for forgiveness for the things he’s done. Eddie continues to weep while Tala plays with her pipe cleaner dog.
Tala hands Eddie a stone and asks him to wash her. She removes her shirt and Eddie is startled to see that her skin is burned and scarred. As he washes her with the stone, the scars begin to fall away.
Tala uses her fingers to tell Eddie that she is his fifth person. A tear falls down Eddie’s cheek, and Tala asks him why he was sad in his life. Just like he told the Blue Man, the Captain, Ruby, and Marguerite, Eddie says that he was sad because he was stuck at Ruby Pier his whole life. He didn’t feel that’s where he was meant to be. But Tala tells him that he was meant to stay at Ruby Pier. He was keeping other children safe—making up for the harm that he accidentally caused Tala. Then she calls him “Eddie Maintenance.”
Sitting in the river, Eddie can sense that he will be moving on soon. So he asks Tala if she knows about the little girl he died trying to save. He wants to know if he was able to pull her out in time. Tala says no.
Eddie didn’t pull the little girl, he pushed her out of the way of the falling car and into safety.
Eddie is confused, because the only thing he remembered of his last moment was the little girl’s hands in his. Tala smiles and holds Eddie’s hands. The hands Eddie remembers were Tala’s hands as she pulled him into heaven to keep him safe. Though Eddie never knew about Tala, she proves to him how we are all connected to each other.
Eddie Learns How We Are All Connected
Ruby Pier Amusement park opened again three days after Eddie’s death. The story stayed in the newspaper for a week. Freddy’s Free Fall reopened the next year with a new name—Daredevil Drop. Dominguez took over Eddie’s job as the head of maintenance.
The apartment Eddie lived in for almost his entire life was rented out to someone new, and all of his possessions were put into a trunk. They were stored alongside some Ruby Pier memorabilia, including a photo of the first entrance. People will continue to look at them as they continue to ask themselves: are we all connected?
The young man, Nicky, replaced the car key that he lost at Ruby Pier. He continued to come back to the park. He loved to brag that his great-grandmother was the Ruby, after whom the park was named.
Years passed. Each summer, when the days got longer, people returned to Ruby Pier. They stood in lines to ride the rides.
In heaven, another line was forming: A line of five people in their five chosen heavens. These five people were waiting for a young girl with blonde curls to grow up, to live her life, and eventually to die.
One of the people waiting in line to explain to the girl with curls why she lived is an old man named Eddie who she’ll meet in the Stardust Band Shell. Someday, he’ll share with her what he’s learned: that every person’s story affects the next person’s story. In fact, all the stories are one. It is proof of how we are all connected to each other.
Are we all connected? It depends on your perspective—but in the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven, the idea of how we are all connected is also what connects the book, and Eddie’s life story.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Five People You Meet In Heaven summary:
- Who the Five People Eddie meets in heaven are
- What each person teaches Eddie about the meaning of his own life
- Why Eddie finally feels gratitude and closure at the end of his life