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A Special Faith in Action Conversation with Mitch Albom

Mitch Album is the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, which, if you have heard of none of his other books, you’ve likely heard of that one. His collected works have sold over 47 million copies and have been translated into 45 languages and if you’ve only read Morrie, you owe it to yourself to pick up his others. Check out Have a Little Faith or The Stranger in The Lifeboat to get started.

This week, we present a special live conversation between Albom and Carrie Fox, recorded November 2022, on the heels of the book’s 25th anniversary. We’ve been talking about the power of communications to make change this season, and this week, we invite you to think in terms of simplicity. To wit: “[In Morrie] people substitute themselves into the story. They’re me, or they’re Morrie, or their person is Morrie. If I had a nickel for every time someone would stop me and take out a wallet and say, ‘let me show you my Morrie’, and they would take out a picture. A teacher, a parent, a grandparent, or something like that. I think there’s a universality to it, and that’s why it’s been picked up around the world the way it has.”

This is one of Albom’s true gifts: to tell stories so deeply personal, so easy to project ourselves into, that we can’t help but see ourselves in them. And once we’re able to see ourselves in a story, or a pitch, or a release, we capture a spark of empathy to light the flame of change. 

We’re thrilled to be able to share this conversation with you here. Our great thanks to Mitch Albom and Grace United Methodist Church for allowing us to share in the experience.

Episode Transcript

Carrie Fox:
Welcome to Mission Forward. I’m your host, Carrie Fox. Before we get into today’s show, let me give a quick setup to the very special conversation that’s about to unfold. Now here at Mission Forward our goal is to produce thought-provoking and actionable content about the power of communications. Often you’re listening to a great conversation between me and my guest, but in today’s show, I’m inviting you to come along to a special live conversation that I hosted with Mitch Albom at Grace United Methodist Church. If his name sounds familiar, it should. Mitch Albom is the author of Tuesday’s with Morrie which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, as well as several other of my favorite books, including Have a Little Faith and his newest book, Stranger in the Lifeboat. Mitch Albom’s books have sold over 47 million copies and have been translated into over 45 languages. My conversation with Mitch was one of the most inspirational I have ever had, and I’m thrilled to be able to share with you here.
I hope you enjoy this conversation, and if you like what you hear, drop us a rating or a review and check out for more episodes like this one. Thanks, and I’ll see you on the other side. Now, Mitch Albom.
All right, well thank you all for coming today and thank you Mitch for that opening presentation. You’re probably all wondering who am I that just joined Mitch Albom here on stage. The short answer is someone in the audience who I love very much asked me to be here and interview Mitch Albom. The real answer is your work has had an influence on me since I was in high school, more than half of my life, and-

Mitch Albom:
I was going to say like four years ago.

Carrie Fox:
There’s good genes that run in my family. Your books are the only ones that I will read until there is not another page, meaning every single credit I read of your books.

Mitch Albom:
Thank you.

Carrie Fox:
So there is something in the power of your storytelling, how you obviously entranced this audience today, but also in what you write in each one of these that has such an incredible lasting power to it. And I know that was a big reason why Grace United Methodist Church wanted you here today. So before we started on that conversation, let me just say a couple quick things. Pastor Jim, thank you for making the space for this special event today. I’ve known for many years that this is a very special community here at Grace and that this today is a very special gathering. So there are some people, we’ve got some Michiganders in the audience, we’ve got some people who are deeply committed to this church and the growth of this church, and we’ve got many community members who perhaps have never set inside this church before who are here to take part because they wanted to see you today.
Inside we also have someone who flew with you once to Haiti in the early days post the hurricane. And so we know there are some people who just think a lot of you today. We have some audience conversation cards. You all should have gotten these at registration. As we are talking for the next 20 or 30 minutes here, if you have a question for Mitch, fill that out. Simply just raise your hand. We have some folks who are going to be walking around collecting those. And then we will wrap today. We probably can’t get to all of them, but we will wrap with some of your questions.
So to get us started, one of the things I know that Maury said to you is the gift of the present moment. Not looking back, not focus too much on the future, but just really taking the present moment as a blessing. And we’re going to spend some time talking about the present moment, but just for now, I also hope we can go back to 1995 was the year that you happened to turn on the television and see Morrie Schwartz talking to Ted Koppel. That was, we heard you say it a few moments ago, the moment that you realized you had lost touch with someone you loved very much and started to visit with him. I’m curious, Mitch, in those early Tuesdays of visiting with him, did you know the impact that that was going to have on your life?

Mitch Albom:
Not at all. The fact is when I saw Morrie on the Nightline program, all I was going to do was make a phone call. That’s how hard I was on myself back then. All right, make a phone call. And I dialed his number. When I was in college, I used to call Morrie coach. It was like a sports affectation. Hi coach, how you doing, coach? I had long since forgotten that. I dialed his number, a nurse answered, she hand him the phone. I had written out what I wanted to say because I was so nervous about it. And I remember exactly the words I said. I said, “Hello, professor Schwartz. My name is Mitch Albom. I was a student of yours in the ’70s, I don’t know if you remember me.” And the first thing he said to me after 16 years, “How come you didn’t call me coach?” Needless to say, by the end of that conversation I was going to visit him. Guilt is a very powerful motivator.
I went to visit him once. It was so crazy. I mean, back then I was so involved with my work that I was actually on a cell phone as I drove into his neighborhood talking to ESPN. I drive down the street, it was a warm day and unbeknownst to me, Morrie had asked his nurses to bring him outside in his wheelchair so he could greet me right at the curb. And I come down the street and suddenly I see this figure in a wheelchair sitting there on a curb, and I’m on the phone and suddenly I figure out what’s going on and I hit the brakes. And of course the right thing to do is to take the phone and throw it out the window and run out and give this man a hug. I haven’t seen him in 16 years, and I’d like to say that that’s what I did.
I would like to say that that’s what I did, but I didn’t. What I did do was finish that conversation, but slide down below the dashboard, making like I was looking for my keys and finish this talk, which of course I can’t remember what the heck it was about with ESPN, it can’t possibly be important. But at that moment, work came first and everything could wait, even a dying old man. So to say that I knew that it was going to have that impact would’ve been a lie. What happened is it just broke me down little at a time. Really at the end of the first Tuesday I was very taken with Morrie, how he acted. And he never asked me about how much money I made or what my job was or whatever. And he wasn’t even depressed, he was up about how he was dying. And he likened it to a leaf that in its final days becomes most colorful just before it falls off a tree.
But at the end he said, “So you’ll come back and see me?” And I was like, “Sure.” And it was sort of like that. And it really wasn’t until multiple visits that I realized suddenly the inertia was coming from me. I’ll see you next Tuesday, Morrie, instead of him saying, “Will you come next Tuesday?” And I think the best teachers do that to us. They break us down like wild horses. And eventually we realize this is good for us. So I wish I could say I saw it coming. I wish I could say I saw all of it coming, but from its impact on me to the book itself, to the acceptance of the book. I mean, I can tell you some funny stories about how small Tuesdays with Morrie was when it came out.
I know we’re all here and it sold umpteen million copies and all this. That wasn’t the prediction. First of all, they released it in August. I mean, think about that. A book about the meaning of life coming out in that perfect month of August, because it’s a great beach read. And nobody picked it up. It wasn’t on a best sellers list, it wasn’t anything. I couldn’t even get an interview because nobody knew what to make of me. I was a sports writer, but they said, but this isn’t about sports, so why would we want to talk to him? And nobody took it seriously. So we were so desperate for any kind of attention that if someone called for an interview, I would travel to the city. And I went to St. Louis once to do a morning zoo rock and roll radio show because they asked me to, and I don’t know why they wanted me.
I think they heard the word Albom and they thought… So I go to this station and I walk in, it’s really early in the morning and it’s pitch black in the studio and they have a black light on, and this disc Jockey’s hairs every which direction, music is blasting. And I think this isn’t going to go very well. And I see my book is on his counter, so he waves me to come in while the music’s on and I come in and he waves for me to sit down. I sit down and then he lowers the fader there and he has one of those great FM disc jockey voices and he says, “Yeah folks, that was some Van Halen for you. Now we have a surprise, we have Mitch Ablom and he’s got a book called Tuesdays with Maurice. So Mitch, I guess the obvious first question would be why Tuesdays?” I still don’t have an answer to that question now. So, that’s how it went. And then it just started taking off from there. So no is the answer, I didn’t see any of it coming.

Carrie Fox:
So that’s even more incredible because then from that moment to 18 million copies.

Mitch Albom:

Carrie Fox:
More than 18 million copies, right? A book that resonates across every age, every race, every ethnicity, every background, every divide. People can find themselves, as you’ve said, either in your story or in his. What turned, what made that happen?

Mitch Albom:
Well, I think now that I’ve had the years to look back on it, I don’t think it’s anything that I wrote. I don’t think I have some magic way with words or anything like that. I think it’s everybody has a Morrie in their life. A parent, a grandparent, a mentor, a coach, somebody like that that they can relate to or everybody at some point in their life was as I was back then, like go, go, go, get, get, get acquire, acquire, acquire. How come I’m not so happy? I’m doing everything that they told me I was supposed to do and it would be a success, but I don’t feel fulfilled. And I think everybody has felt that [inaudible 00:11:07].
So people substitute themselves into the story. They’re me or they’re Morrie or their person is Morrie. If I had a nickel for every time someone would stop me and take out a wallet and say, let me show you my Morrie, And they would take out a picture of a teacher, a parent, a grandparent or something like that. So I think there’s a universality to it and that’s why it’s been picked up around the world the way it has.

Carrie Fox:
When you were talking earlier around the Super Bowl for the homeless, I was thinking about a dear friend of ours named Schroeder Stribling who talks about if, but for the grace of God, she would be me, he would be me, they would be me, thinking about the moments that we find ourselves in or whatever pathway we find ourself in life. I’ve been thinking about that as I was listening to you and going back to the beginning of your career. You in your own words, you were ambitious, running after it, working hard to build yourself up as a sports reporter. And then in one moment, in one visit on a Tuesday afternoon, your trajectory changed, in a lot of ways you say for the better, beyond what you could have even imagined for your life in that moment. There are a lot of lessons that Morrie has taught you and you have then shared with the world. Is there one through line of what Morrie shared with you that has guided your path now through life?

Mitch Albom:
Yeah, I would probably cite the last visit that I had with Morrie. It was quite different from all the other visits because Morrie would always ask to be carried into his office because he didn’t like to be in bed. He would always say, “When you’re in bed you’re dead.” And so he would always be in his office, in his chair. And I came into the house that day and I went to his office and it was empty. And I went back to his bedroom and there he was in the bed and he was so small, he was so shriveled from this disease that he looked like a child, looked a little boy in the bed. And the covers were up to his neck. And I sat down next to him and he asked, he said, “Hold my hand.” He could still speak a little. He said, “Hold my hand.” I held his hand and he said, “I want to ask you a favor.” I said, “Okay.” “After I’m dead, I want you to come visit me at my grave.”
I said, “Okay, I was going to do that anyhow.” And he said, “Not the way everybody else visits. Don’t drive in, get out of your car, leave the engine running, put down some flowers and go back away. Come when you have some time. Bring a blanket, bring some sandwiches. And I want you to talk to me about your life, about your problems.” And you know me, I was always trying to inject some levity into it. And I said, “Well, okay, wait a minute. You want me to come to the cemetery, have a picnic at your tombstone and talk to the air.” “Exactly, just like we’re talking now.” And I said, “Well Morrie, it’s not going to be like we’re talking now because let’s face it, you’re not going to be able to talk back.” And he looked at me as if I were being very naive and he said, “Well Mitch, I’ll make a deal. After I’m dead, you talk, I’ll listen.”
And of course I laughed, as I laughed at all those comments that I told you about before, but when I thought about it after. I didn’t write any of Tuesdays with Morrie while Morrie was alive, which is something that people don’t realize that Morrie never read a word of Tuesdays with Morrie. When I sat down to write it, that tape was the last tape. And so I would hear that. You talk, I’ll listen, you talk, I’ll listen. And I realized that wasn’t an accident that he waited until the end to share that with me. Because in that sentence is everything, everything that I think he was trying to teach me and everything I really, to me, if you ask me the essence of Tuesdays with Morrie, which is if you lead your life as Morrie did with people as the priority, making other people the priority, not things, not possessions, not money, not success, but people. Giving of yourself, the people sharing of yourself with people, then when you die, you’re not 100% gone.
You live on inside the heads and hearts of everybody that you’ve touched and they can talk to you, not because they’re weirded out by ghost or seances or something, but because you spent time putting yourself inside them. You created the voice that they can still hear. I always say it’s like a penny in a piggy bank. If you put a penny in a piggy bank for all intents and purposes, it’s gone forever. You’ll never get it back. You’ll never see it, it’s dead, it’s gone. But if you take the piggy bank and you shake it, there it is. And that’s the voice that stays inside you if you made a human connection with that person. So in that way, death ends a life, but not a relationship. The relationship can go on. How many times you said Thanksgiving’s coming up, how many times at a Thanksgiving when you say, oh, if Uncle Pete were here, he’d say, “You made that again. That’s terrible.” If my grandmother was here and she saw what you did to the Turkey, she would…
Why do we do that? Because they were there putting those memories inside us. And so they come back to us, their voices are in inside us, but if you spend all day working, if you spend all day trying to get beautiful or buff in the gym or whatever, if you spend all day trying to be famous or whatever, then when you die, you better plan on being 100% dead. Dead and gone because your money, they’re going to fight over after you’re gone. They always do. Your beautiful body, no matter how buff you took care of it, is going to rotten the ground right next to a fat guy. Nobody’s going to care. And whatever fame you chased in your life will be replaced by somebody else who’s younger and hipper and newer.
But that one thing that you have that makes you distinctly you, that voice, that’s the sum of everything that you’ve done or you’ve experienced, you’ve learned, you’ve loved, whatever that voice that’s you, you didn’t spend any time giving away. You were too busy taking to feel alive. And so if you share that voice, you won’t be forgotten. And everybody you touch will remember it. And I know that sounds corny, but think about it, Morrie never read a word of Tuesdays with Morrie, but look how many people his words have touched. Look, what are you all doing here? Many of you I’m sure came because of that book and you didn’t know Morrie, you didn’t know me, but his words resonated and touched somebody and touched somebody and touched somebody else and gave you a book and gave you a book, pass the book. And now look how large his classroom has grown for a guy who’s not even here to teach it.
This is how we affect the world. One other person at a time, like throwing a pebble in a pond and the ripples just keep going. So for me, sorry for such a long answer, but for me that’s the thing that I’ve always resonated. And so in my actions now, I always say, “Am I doing anything that’s going to be remembered by the person that I’m doing it with or to? Am I teaching them a lesson that maybe the kids don’t like but they’ll still remember? Or am I spending time with somebody so they’ll remember that I was here for them after I’m gone?” And I think that’s a good way to acid test what you’re doing in your life.

Carrie Fox:
No apologies for long answers. They’re here to listen to you, not me. You talk, I’ll listen.

Mitch Albom:
Okay, very clever.

Carrie Fox:
So let’s talk about relationships because it’s interesting that just a few years ago we would’ve taken for granted a group gathering together in person sitting alongside one another to hear one of their favorite authors speak. For years we couldn’t do this. Finally, we are coming back together. That few years had an incredible impact on all of us in so many ways. I’m curious what kind of impact it had on you, on your relationships, on how you think about the world.

Mitch Albom:
We got trapped right at Covid with an eight year old from Haiti who we had brought up for medical treatment. His name is Knox. And he came up in February of 2020 for a month’s worth of medical treatments and they shut down the borders and they shut down travel and they shut down everything. He ended up living with us for six months and every night at dinner he was there and every morning or whatever, and he’s a kid who was, I’m going to tear up telling you the story, but he was left to die under a tree when he was six weeks old. And a woman heard him crying out in the woods near a hospital and found him under this tree and picked him up and brought him to a police station in Haiti. And the police said, “What’d you pick him up for? Now we have to do paperwork.”
That was the response. So she grabbed him thinking, well okay, they’re not going to take care of him. And she took him home and she tried to raise him, but she was very young and she wasn’t very attentive. And he was on a tabletop when he was one year old, and he jumped off and smashed his head open and had to have brain surgery. And as a result was like a stroke victim. His arm and his leg were up like that. And that’s what he would come, we would bring him up to America to get treatment for some of this, to try to get his foot to go back down and his arm to go back down. He is the happiest kid that God ever put on this earth. He has never had a bad day. I’ve never seen him cry. I’ve never seen him whine. I’ve never seen him complain.
And we had the best six months just having him at the dinner table. And I would say to my wife, “You realize what a gift this disease was to us. That we have this little family and we’re cooking and we’re eating and no restaurants, no going out. We’re just all here together with him.” And forged a bond with him that will never be broken because even though he’s gone back and every time I see him, it’s like greeting one of your sons. And we were blessed. And I think a lot of people found that during that time. Like wow, so this table is for dinner? Okay, that’s what this thing was doing here for. And we wonder what this long table was in the dining room because we were always out. And I think a lot of people discovered the niceties of a home life.
And I mean there were many, many terrible things that happened obviously. And we spent a lot of our time in Detroit. In fact, I wrote a book during that time, which we gave away for free on the internet to try to raise money for Detroit. Detroit got hit very, very hard by Covid. It’s a largely, I mean 85% African American city. And the health services just weren’t there. And so again, I was in one of those, how can I raise money quickly? I said, “Well I’ll write a book and I’ll give it away.” And we were going to charge for it a little bit at a time. I wrote it online every week and they said, well we’ll charge like $2 a week or something. I said, “Don’t do that. Just ask people to help. They’ll help.” And we gave it away for free and just said, “If you’re moved by what you read…”
And it was a story about a neighborhood like mine that was going through Covid. Four houses on the neighborhood and who lived in the four houses on one block, one street corner and how they interrelated with each other. And of course one of the characters was an eight year old from Haiti. And we put this up there, it’s called Human Touch. And there were eight weeks that I wrote about two chapters a piece. And do you know that we raised about $1 million just from people sending in volunteers, and we gave it all away. And it’s still up there, it’s still there for free. You can get it if you want. And when it came time to do the audio book, Knox played the eight year old in the book. His name is Little Moses. And he would sit on my lap because he couldn’t really read, but he would sit on my lap and I would like say, “Can you come out and play?” Said Little Moses. And I’d say, “Okay, now say that part.” And he’d say, “Can you come out and play?” And I’d say, “Said Little Moses,” and we’d how he would do it. And you hear him on the tape, it’s really quite something. So we found a way to make that a blessed time and I consider ourselves very lucky to have had him with us.

Carrie Fox:
That’s great. I’m going to give a little signal if you have a question and you have not yet given it to Sophia or one of our friends with a red rose, put your hand up. I’m going to ask one more and then we’ll have some community questions. So today’s event is called a Faith in Action event. As Pastor Jim said, it’s the start of potentially a new series of conversations where we’re opening the doors wide at the church and having big picture conversations about faith and the role it plays in our lives. I think I know a little bit of the answer to this, but what does faith mean to you?

Mitch Albom:
Oh boy, that’s a big question because I’ve lived a lot of years and I think that for many people, faith is the journey. I’m sure there are people who feel as fervently today at age 60 as they did when they were six, but there’s not a lot of them. Most people I’ve observed go through waves with their faith. So I was raised with faith, I went to a religious school when I was in junior high school and high school, I was taught almost everything. Half the day was just religious education. And then when I got to college I said, “Well, okay, I know all that. I don’t need it anymore.” And I drifted away from it and then found myself pulled back when there were deaths and there were difficult moments as I think many of us find ourselves pulled back.
And then I did an exploration of it about that time when I wrote that book, Have a Little Faith, because after I had I told you about forming [inaudible 00:26:30] Detroit, one of the places that I went to try to help was a church in Detroit that was 150 years old but was decrepit and falling apart. And I was told that they ran a homeless program. So I went to this church to try to talk to the pastor about the homeless program, seeing if that might be someplace where we could use some of this money that we had collected. So I would just walk into the place, there’s nobody there to greet me or whatever. And I see this really heavy [inaudible 00:27:07] African-American man, maybe 400 and some pounds, he’s in a t-shirt, carrying up the boxes. He’s sweating profusely and walking through. And of course my immediate assumption is, well okay, he’s working maintenance.
And I said, “Hi, I’m here to see the pastor, can you tell me where he is?” He puts down the boxes. He goes, “I’m the pastor.” And his name was Henry Covington. And he showed me his church and it had a hole in the roof, a big hole. If you take about the size of this chunk right here and you could see through to the sky. And we were going into winter, we were in winter when we started this. And I would come down to see the congregation and it would snow into the church. And they didn’t have any heat because they couldn’t afford a heat. And most of the congregation were homeless people or indigent people. So what they did was they built, I’m not very good at construction, but they built wooden beams over some of the seats and then they put visqueen, is that what it’s called?
Visqueen, it’s plastic. Visqueen? And they put plastic up to try to keep warm and they would sit inside this little plastic enclosed thing in this massive church while the snow was coming in. And I was so inspired by what I saw there that I got very involved with it. And I started a campaign to try to fix the roof. And I ended up writing a book called Have a Little Faith. And Spending time with that pastor and seeing he a former drug addict, a former ex-con, he had been in prison, you name it, it had all happened to him. And he had turned his life around and here he was trying to inspire people who were just like him who had been just like him. And I got back into it and then this rabbi asked me to write his eulogy and I started doing that.
And so then I became really in depth with it again. And then I lost in the course of 18 months, my mother, my father, and our little girl. And I was really angry. And after Chika died, I was ready to hang that whole thing up. And I said, okay, mother, father, that happens. It hurt, but it’s not personal. We all go through that. But how can you be benevolent, a benevolent God and not be benevolent to a seven year old who already lived through an earthquake, lost her mother, was an orphan, and then you gave her a brain tumor and then she dies from a brain tumor. And I was very, very upset and very done with the whole idea of it. And as fate would have it, as I’ve said, because faith is really like an ocean, you got to ride the waves. I sat down to write this book. First I wrote a book about Chika, which I wrote mostly from pain.
And then I sat down to write this book about a bunch of shipwrecked people who survive a boat explosion and are out in the middle of the ocean and nobody’s coming for them. There’s no planes, there’s no anything. And suddenly they see in the water a body floating and they pull the body in and it’s a guy, a young guy, just average looking guy, and he doesn’t speak and he doesn’t say anything. And finally somebody in the boat says, “Well whoever you are, and however you ended up in the middle of the ocean, thank the Lord we found you.” And he says, “I am the Lord.” And that’s all I had to start the book. But I said, that’s a good way to start a book. What happened?
And I started to write about what we expect from God, what we want God to look like, how we want God to act, and what would happen if God actually showed up in front of us, would we even believe it if God didn’t look like what we thought? And as I did this, and as I started to write this, I wrote a character who asks God, “Why did you let my wife die?” And even though in the book he’s asking about his wife, it was me asking about Chika.
And the words that I ended up writing were really my turning point on God and faith and misery, because what I wrote was, why is it that when people die on earth, you always say, you humans always say, why did God take them? Why don’t you ask, why did God give them to us? What did we do to deserve the sweetness, the loveliness, the moments, the memories that we had with them? Didn’t you have that with your wife? Which of course is God saying, didn’t you have that with Chika? And the character says, “Yes every day.” And God says, “Well, those moments are a gift, but their absence is not a punishment. I don’t take them away to be cruel to you. I know you before you’re born. I know you after you die. This is not the whole story.” And he concludes by saying, “I know you all cry when your loved ones leave this earth, but I can assure you they’re not crying.”
And when I wrote that, there was a gush out of me, like an expulsion. And I realized that I was writing this as that’s how I came to terms with Chika dying. That my wife and I had wanted to have kids 20 years earlier. And we never did, we got married very late and it just didn’t happen. And yet all of a sudden we had this amazing five, six, seven year old girl in our lives who made us laugh and who woke us up in the morning and giggling and would call me on the phone and say, I’d be down in my office and she’d be up in bed with my wife and she’d say, “Mr. Mitch, do you want to come up and play fluffy, cozy bed camp?” And I said, “Okay.” And I’d come upstairs and she’d be on the covers and she’d lift the covers.
She’d say, “These are the rules of fluffy, cozy bed camp. I’m the boss, miss Janine is the second boss. You can be the third boss.” Just to have moments like that and what did we do to deserve that? That had been the answer. She had been the answer to a prayer we had made 20 years earlier. And I realize we expect our prayers to be answered like that like we’re ordering a sandwich, and God doesn’t work on that timetable. But when I thought about it, I said, yeah, what a blessing. We got her for two years. And I remember that line that I had said about Chika, we didn’t lose a child, we were given one. And when you start to think of your losses as what did I have? What did I gain? Even though it’s over, what was I given during the time I had it?
You start to go from an attitude of misery and why did this happen to me? To an attitude of being grateful. And it was after I wrote that part in Stranger in the Lifeboat that I feel like I came back to God, came back to faith and came back to understanding it’s not about what’s taken away, it’s what’s given. And I can’t deny that what we had was a gift. So would I rather have not had that? No, of course I would not. I’ll take those two years, those are the best two years of our lives that we had with her. So, that’s a long answer also to faith, it’s an undulating thing. But I think deep down, I remember, and I’ll end on this question, that Rabbi that I told you about, he told me an interesting story about believing in something versus believing in nothing.
He said that there was a dentist who was an atheist and was really proud of being an atheist and he was his dentist and he would schedule his appointments on Saturday mornings, which of course for a rabbi is impossible because it’s a Sabbath. And the rabbi would always have to call and say, “you know I can’t do Saturday.” Oh okay, yeah, we’ll put you on a Tuesday. But he did it deliberately just to try to dig at him. And then he lost his wife, this man, this dentist, and the rabbi being a good person, went to pay him a condolence call, even though all he ever did was jab at him. And at first he was angry, what are you doing here? Why are you here? And he said, “Because I want you to know that I have compassion for what you’re going through.”
And then the man started to cry and he said, “I envy you.” And the rabbi said, “What do you mean you envy me?” He said, “I envy you because if something like this happens to you, you at least have some place you can go and you can ask and why did it happen? And I don’t have anybody, because I don’t believe in anything and it’s meaningless to me.” And he said to me, the rabbi said to me, I think that that’s true. Better to have someone to say, why did this happen? Even if you don’t get a great answer then to feel like there’s nothing. No purpose, no reason, no anything, we’re just worm food. And I think in the end, that probably sums up my feeling about faith, at least for the moment.

Carrie Fox:
Thank you. I wish we had all day with you. We do not.

Mitch Albom:
Me too.

Carrie Fox:
We do not. So I popped through here and there’s some interesting themes in these cards. So we’re going to do our last two questions based on these.

Mitch Albom:

Carrie Fox:
There are quite a few questions in here around The Five People You Meet In Heaven. And so I’m going to sum it up with this question, which is around what was your inspiration for that book? And this person specifically is noting about how the influence that we unknowingly have on others stuck with this person.

Mitch Albom:
Well, whoever pointed that out has got the essence of that book. So I never wrote a novel before. That was my first novel. There was funny story behind it because of course after Tuesdays when Morrie came out and became this big huge book, I didn’t write anything for six years. I was paralyzed. I don’t know what to do after that. And of course all the publishers who didn’t want Tuesdays with Morrie now only wanted Wednesdays with Morrie, Thursdays with Morrie, Chicken Soup and Morrie, Venus, Mars and Morrie. Whatever you could come up with, more Morrie, more Morrie. And I’m glad that now, and I’m glad then that I said to them, “I’m never doing.” I said everything I had to say, I didn’t do it for money, I didn’t do it to turn it into a cottage industry. And I’m proud that it has succeeded, but I’m not going to sully it by start milking it into a bunch of different forms.
And so they said, “All right, well what do you want to do?” And I couldn’t come up with anything that I knew if I wrote another non-fiction book, everyone would hold it up to Morie and say, “Well it doesn’t have Morrie in it.” And so I said, “I guess I’m going to try a novel.” Oh no, that’s the dumbest idea you could possibly do. No, everybody makes a mistake. They think they’re novel writers and they think they’re fiction, it’s going to be bad. And I said, “Well that’s what you told me about Tuesdays with Morrie. You didn’t want that either.” So there’s actually a really… Well, I don’t want to ruin the book for people, it’s a funny story, but it will ruin the ending. But as far as the inspiration of Five People You Meet In Heaven, it’s very clear, very, very distinct story. I had an uncle whose name was Eddie, if you read the five people you meet in heaven, you know that is Eddie.
Eddie was 83 years old when he died, just like my uncle was. My uncle was a World War II veteran, just like Eddie was in the book. And when I used to ask him, “Did you ever kill anybody?” He would say, “I don’t know, I might have.” And I said, “Well, how did you might have?” He said “We fired a lot of things into the night. We had a lot of these fights, I don’t know where my bullets went.” And I thought, what a thing to go through life and not know if you might have killed somebody or not. And Eddie, he was a barrel tested guy, he was 5’4″, all chest and stuff. And he was muscles and he used to clean Spittoons, that was a job that he had and then became a cab driver. And he was like Popeye and he talked like this and he was one of those guys that used to wear those beater t-shirts around, but then he would tuck them in for dinner like formal wear.
So he’d eat at the table, but he had it tucked in. So, that was okay. And we used to jump on his biceps and he used to lift us up as kids, that’s the kind of guy he was, and I adored him. But he would always say, “I’m a nobody, I’m nothing. I never been nowhere. I never done nothing.” And I could never convince him that he was important because he just thought of himself as insignificant. And he used to tell this story every year at the Thanksgiving table, same story about the time that he had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. And he was on the table and he said that they said he died for a couple seconds, his heart stopped. And he said that he remembered coming out of his body and floating over the table and seeing all of his dead relatives waiting for him at the edge of the bed.
So of course being a kid, you say, “Oh Uncle Ed, what’d you do? What’d you do?” And he’d say, “What’d I do? I told them get the hell out of here, I’m not ready for any of you yet.” And apparently he scared them right back to heaven because they left and he went back into his body and he lived another 10 years. So I always thought of this whenever people would say, “What do you think happens when you die?” I say, “Well, your relatives are waiting for you because he’s my uncle. He’s not going to lie to me. He’s not trying to get a TV show or sell a book or something. That’s what happened, and if he said it to me, I believed it.” So I created this story about this guy named Eddie who dies. And of course he died differently than my uncle did. But he dies trying to save this little girl from an accident at a pier where he works.
He works at an amusement park and a ride breaks and the cart drops down and he sees this little girl underneath. So he goes to shove her out of the way and he feels her little hands in his, but then everything goes black and he dies and he wakes up in heaven. He doesn’t know if he saved her or not. And he goes through these stages of heaven where he finds out that the truth of heaven is that you meet five people from your life, some of whom are your relatives, like my Uncle Eddie, but some of whom might be strangers who you just had a moment’s impact with and you change their life forever and they change yours. Like this person pointed out, the impact that we have. Here’s a perfect example of that. How many times have you ever been on a highway where your mind drifts or something, you start easing out into the other lane and a car behind you goes [inaudible 00:43:08], and you pull back over and then they pass you and you don’t even look at them because it’s like that, and they go by.
Well that person just saved your life. You might have drifted, if they weren’t there, you might have hit a [inaudible 00:43:24], you might have hit another car, they literally could have saved your life. And what did you do? You looked down and you didn’t want to see them. So there are people like that in our lives that we interact with all the time that we don’t know how they might have saved us or changed us. So like I told you, when Morrie called [inaudible 00:43:39], if I had been a couple feet down the corridor, I wouldn’t be here. So I tried to write a book about how every person has an impact. And that’s exactly what the book is about. There’s no such thing as a nobody. And by the time he gets to his fifth person, he finds out that this nothing life that he thought he led actually affected so many different people on earth.
And the funny story is that when I went around to different publishers to try to get them to publish The Five People You Meet In Heaven, they’d say, “Oh that’s an interesting book. But how about you do a non-fiction book first and then we’ll do this? How about you do a non-fiction book first?” Because they just wanted another Tuesdays with Morrie. And then I went to this place called Hyperion and it was one guy who was the head of the company and 10 women and they sat in a circle and I told the story about, and at the time I only knew a couple of people, but I went through what happens at the end. And at the end he meets this little girl. And I don’t want to tell you the whole story, but he asked, “Did I save the little girl?”
And he said, “I felt her hands in my hands. I felt her hands in my hands.” And this little girl who he meets in heaven says, “No, those were my hands and I was bringing you to heaven.” And when I said that a woman in the room burst into tears, said, “Oh I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” And so they said, “Well, we want to publish this book. Forget any nonfiction. We think this is a good book, we want to publish it.” So when I left, I got in the elevator with my literary agent, we were going down and I said, “Okay, two things. One, let’s publish with these people because they want to do a novel first. And two, whoever that woman was, I want her to be my editor.” And that’s what happened. And she became the editor for that book and for the next four books. And she always said was the best crying she ever did. And so that’s how The Five People You Meet In Heaven came into being.

Carrie Fox:
I thought The Five People You Meet In Heaven was my favorite book until I read Have a Little Faith, until I read Stranger in the Lifeboat. So we are going to share our book winners here and then we’re going to ask you our final question. So we have each of your books out front and folks had put their names in to win one of them. We’re going to ask you to sign each one of them so that these folks go home with a signed book. Heather Nicholas won Have a Little Faith. Alan Wigfield won Magic Strings. Kendra German won Five People You Meet In Heaven. Gretchen Edwards won Next Person You Meet In Heaven. Madeline Bryan, First Phone Call From Heaven. Lillian Snyder, For One More Day. Laura Freeborn, Finding Chika. Spence, I’m sorry I can’t read this last name Limbarker, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Charles Vorcover, Stranger in the Lifeboat. So those books will all be waiting for you in the book signing line.

Mitch Albom:

Carrie Fox:
Okay, last question, and it’s a bit of a big one. There are also a lot of questions here around death, perhaps no surprise. But there’s one here that I’ll ask if we want to wrap on. We talked about your past. We started by talking about Tuesdays with Morrie. We’ve spent some time talking about living in the present. We all know what the future holds for every single one of us. There’s no denying it. What will you say to God when you meet him in heaven?

Mitch Albom:
So soon? That’s a really interesting and difficult question. I suppose by virtue of the fact that I’ll be able to speak to God, already will have confirmed the most important question that I would’ve wanted to ask God down here, which is, are you there? I think I would want to know by the end, was I doing the right thing? I don’t have enough hubris to ask about the beginning. I know the answer to the earlier part. But by the end, did I do the right thing? Did I influence people in the right way? Did I learn how to put other people ahead of myself honestly, not action wise. It’s easy to just force yourself to go do something, but mentally. I try to pray every morning, I pray a lot, but I pray every morning in a routine and I go through every person in my life that matters to me. And I thank God for them. And I ask God to watch over them and I have an order to it. And I only ask for myself at the end. There’s an order to that.
And yet I find it only from beginning to end maybe will take four or five minutes, but I can’t get through it without my mind wandering, like I think about something else, or I think about what I’m supposed to do it and then I apologize to God and I say, “I’m going to start over because if I were you, I wouldn’t be listening to my prayers if I just got interrupted by, I wonder if the newspaper came or not.”
So I start over to the beginning and I wonder, why can’t I just stay focused on this? And I realize that that little microcosm, that praying thing is a challenge. That’s what our life is. We want to be good. We want to do the right thing every minute of our day. But there’s so many things that come into our days that drag you in the other direction and pull you in the other direction and make you think the other way. And my goal would be where I got to the point where my thoughts were as pure as what I was trying to force my actions to be. That in my heart I had become a worthy person, and a person who tries to do good. I have found my answer in life as I’ve gotten older in children, as I get older and there’s not that much more older to get than I already am.
But as I continue to get older, adults make no sense to me, less and less. But kids make more and more. And as I said, I go to Haiti every month and what I get to see there, I realize that God put me there for some kind of reason because I had never even heard of Haiti. I mean, when I got on that plane to go down the first time, if you had told me what island, I didn’t even know that it was part of another island. I thought it was its own place. It shares the island with the Dominican Republic. But I didn’t even know that. And yet it’s become so integral to my life. We have 60 plus children who were there now, I have at least 20 who have come through who are already out. We’ve got eight that are in college right now.
Because every one of our kids gets a college scholarship if they can make the grade. And so far, every one of them has made the grade. Eight in college now and one’s applying to medical school to be a doctor. These are kids who have nothing. I don’t mean nothing like American nothing like an old cell phone or a television that isn’t a flat screen. I mean nothing, nothing. We just took in a baby. I mean I just left this morning from my home with my wife and I are now doing bottles and diapers at our age because a child was brought to us. A woman knocked on our director’s door at eight o’clock in the morning with five children from five different men who said, “I’m homeless. I don’t have any way to take care of these children. Take all of them.” And this happens every day.
And we said, “We don’t do that. We don’t take five children from somebody.” But she was holding a baby, and she said, “Well what about this baby? This baby hasn’t eaten anything and she’s six months old. All I’ve been able to give her is sugar water.” This child was as big as my hand. And we took her in, we rushed her to the hospital. She had malnutrition, anemia, conjunctivitis. She couldn’t even open her eyes. There was puss everywhere. And because it’s Haiti, we were able to get a fake birth certificate, which is not hard to do in Haiti. 200 bucks and you pretty much can do that, 300 for a death certificate by the way. Which we’ve sometimes had to do too. But not that we kill anybody real, but sometimes. And then we got a passport and we brought her to America and she has been living with us for the last six months.
And she’s now almost 15 pounds. She was six pounds when we found her, and six months old, six pounds. And she is the happiest, brightest, most joyous kid. It’s as if she knows her backstory. And I’m not complaining about anything, I’m not going to cry. And the privilege of holding this child and just being able to walk around and caring or knowing that she’s alive, maybe because of what we were able to do. Cause I don’t know what she was going to do. That way many, many children die in Haiti all the time. So to have that ability to be in the midst of real need where 60% of the country is unemployed, where 65% can’t read, where the average paycheck is $5 a day, if you have a job and the life expectancy is 60 something because that’s considered old there.
To be in the middle of all that and to be able to affect children is as close as I think I am going to come to being able to go in front of God and say, “That’s what you were leading me to, right?” All this other stuff and even the success that I had in other areas enables me financially to run an orphanage and to do all that, so it did lead to it, but it feels like that’s where I’m supposed to end up. And for every one of you, I’m sure there’s a path if you look back on your life and you say, “Well I went from here to here and I met this one, I did this and this, and this. And even the bad things that happened, if you look back on them and you say, “Well, at the time I thought they were terrible. That was the worst thing that could have happened. But now I realize if that didn’t happen then I wouldn’t have met this person or I wouldn’t have gotten married to this person. I wouldn’t have gone to this town. So I guess looking back on it, it was best thing that could have happened to me.”
Well, if it’s the best thing that could have happened to you 10 years ago, then it’s the best thing that could have happened to you now. And vice versa, whatever’s happening to you now probably is part of this long plan to get you to where you’re supposed to be. And if you can find that, I think in your life, that you can take all the disparate marks and check marks on your path and say, “Yeah, I think this was crazy. And this was kind of crazy, but look at where it stitched me to where I’m supposed to be now.” I think that’s what God wants out of us. I don’t think God necessarily expects us to come out of the womb and just be perfect because if that’s what he wanted, he could have made us that way.
But he made us with all these choices and all these options and all these things, like figure your own way out. I want to see that you come to me. It’s no fun if I make a robot and then the robot just worships me. I want to see if you find your way to me. And I feel like through these children, I’m finding my way to where I’m supposed to be. And it’s not an accident that it’s happening in the later part of my life. And I hope that everybody here has something like that in their lives that feels like whatever crooked turns it took to get there, if by the end you straighten the wheel and you’re where you need to be, maybe that’s how we’re supposed to do it.

Carrie Fox:
Well, Mr. Mitch Albom, thank you for making a pit stop along your journey here at Grace United Methodist Church. We appreciate you being here so much with us. And let me invite Pastor Jim to come back up.

Mitch Albom:
Thank you all. That’s very kind. Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.

Carrie Fox:
And that brings us to the end of this episode of Mission Forward. Thanks for tuning in today. If you are stewing on what we discussed here today, or if you heard something that’s going to stick with you, drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know what’s it got you thinking. And if you have thoughts for where we should go in future shows, I would love to hear that too. Mission Forward is produced with the support of Sadie Lockhart in association with the True Story Team. Engineering by Pete Wright. If your podcast app allows for ratings and reviews, I hope you’ll consider doing just that for this show. But the best thing you can do to support Mission Forward is simply to share the show with a friend or colleague. Thanks to your support, and we’ll see you next time.

This season, we are taking you on a journey to meet ten people influencing and shaping how we communicate at scale for social change. From advertising executives to coalition directors, news editors, campaign managers, and authors, they're all people who are shaping and challenging the deep power of communication. If you’re working to become a more inclusive and thoughtful communicator, there’s nothing holding you back—except you.

Carrie Fox

Carrie Fox is the founder and CEO of Mission Partners, a woman-owned strategic communications firm and Certified B Corporation that guides high-potential nonprofits, foundations, and socially responsible corporations in realizing their greatest social impact. Since launching her first firm in 2004, she has guided hundreds of organizations around the world to lead with purpose, fueling organizations and their missions forward in new and more impactful ways.