A Last Request, A Chance For New Ground: Mitch Albom Shines Again

Oct 7, 2010 (Updated Oct 7, 2010)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Mitch Albom, Look at Faith, Great Lessons, Thought Provoking

Cons:I would like to have seen other religions involved, Not as page turning

The Bottom Line: This is a story all can understand, and perhaps might have you looking at life and faith through a different prism.

What's the difference between a Scottish wedding and a funeral? One less drunk. Have you ever been someone's best man? I was actually half way into one of them, thinking it was a funeral of sorts, as I thought my migraine headache was going to lead to my demise. Yet as everything that possibly could have gone wrong did, it turned out that the most important aspects righted themselves upward. The clouds parted, and rays of sunshine broke through the gloom, although the hangover the next day took that quickly away. As many of you know I'm a huge fan of Mitch Albom, who's best known for being a sportswriter, along with penning "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," and "Tuesdays with Morrie."

Those were real page turners, and loaded with lots of good advice about living and dying. However, "Keeping the Faith" is a bit more to digest, although its clearly a winning book. Many of us struggle with religion. I certainly have, and have gone from everything to "There is no God," to "If there is a God, how can he allow suffering," or "God exists so we believe in an afterlife, and we will have club sandwiches and beer with our loved ones again one day." I've often run from faith of any source, and I'm not talking about a local congregation, that's very aggressive about its door to door campaigns. No, I've run away from my belief in God through anger, frustration, times of happiness, and everything else in between. The passing of my son was one event that challenged me both ways, and while very painful, has opened my eyes in new directions. Through the heartbreak, has come a return to faith.

This book starts out, basically with perhaps a challenge that I can't even comprehend. A eulogy is tough enough, but to have your religious leader request you doing it? That's exactly what Mitch Albom has to contend with, as his old Rabbi wants that from him. Mitch is confused, as he's become a successful writer, who remembers his synagogue days as "a means to get away." He was really forced into it, and I laughed when he described seeing the Rabbi as a child, and just wanting to be as far away as possible. When I was a kid, I didn't dislike our pastor, but it was a bit intimidating, and I felt squeamish about the whole process. The only reason I went to church was, I had to because of my parents, and it also allowed me to count how many blue haired ladies were in attendance.

For years, Mitch reconnects with his Rabbi, and gets to know him on a more human level. Some of the lessons the Rabbi has, I truly love. I wish I had the honor of getting to have met him personally, because he was a wise man. This Rabbi started a congregation after WWII in New Jersey, and unfortunately there was and still is anti-semitism. Yet the Rabbi quickly put a halt to what he could, and just put up with odd stares and other disturbing behavior in a peaceful manner. One example I loved, was how he got a Priest to join him "arm in arm" and walk around a nearby church and the synagogue. That's certainly faith in action, and reinforces our being connected to each other, regardless of what demonination or religious beliefs we have.

The Rabbi has a lot of great lessons on life. He admits to knowing a lot in some areas, and when he doesn't, well "he just doesn't know." I love his honesty, and I loved his lesson about being born and dying. Strangely I find it comforting, although enlightening at the same time. The Rabbi was right, as we are born with our fists clenched, almost to say "This world is ours for the taking." Yet when we die, our hands are open. He describes this as being "We leave with nothing but what we have learned." How beautiful, touching, and true. This is how the Rabbi is. He doesn't make life more complicated, he shows us how simple it is, and why faith is integral to our lives regardless of what we believe.

One part where I cried, and finally understood a painful event, was through the Rabbi's teachings. Mitch keeps asking him, "How can you be sure of God?" The Rabbi had lost a child, a four year old daughter, due to an asthma attack. He told Mitch, "I cursed at God." At first this didn't make sense, and then I remembered the night my son left us, and how that's exactly what I did. I yelled at God with a fury and resonance, that my nerve endings are still healing from. That seems to be proof of a higher power right there, and I loved this lesson the most. He lived a simple life, and understood the value of keeping in touch with others, or just singing a "little ditty." Truly a great man, and I'm so happy to have learned from him.

At the same time, this book addresses other faiths. Mitch goes into a bit about Hinduism and Islam, but focuses more on Christianity. He talks about being the only Jewish kid on the block as a kid, and how everyone else had Christmas activities to go to. I can understand this awkwardness, because I dated a girl of Jewish faith for three years, and she told me similar stories. However, there were a few that left me shaking my head in here, and I'm glad we've come "a long way." First the Christmas plays in Mitch's community were elaborate, and received all kinds of donations for the best props. When it was time to celebrate Hannukah, they had to use whatever materials they could find. The real kicker was a Jewish kid being picked to be the Baby Jesus, for a Christmas skit, because "he was Jewish."

Mitch explores Christianity, and its common links to Judaism and Islam. He gets to know a preacher of a Detroit church, that serves the homeless. What amazes me is this preacher, who should have been dead a million times, and what he has done to help others in rough predicaments. With all of my education, growing up in a decent home, I realize that I have a lot more to do in helping others. This doesn't make me feel bad, as this book isn't about that, but rather opened my eyes to what has to be done. That's the best part about Mitch's material, is that it isn't overly preachy, but rather gets you to think about "the meaning of life," and what you can do to assist others.

The preacher that Mitch gets to know, used to be a hardened criminal. A drug dealer, who stole and robbed others, who also lost a child. He often spent his younger years in and out of jail, having the police at his door, and trying to hide from those looking for retribution. There were times that he said "Jesus help me." Finally, one time, it seems that did happen. Through getting himself clean, this criminal became an ordained minister, and opened a church in inner city Detroit. There he helped those of our most vulnerable, the homeless. In that area, as many are aware, it could be considered "economic dire straits."

Mitch gets to know him, along with his congregation. His congregation isn't large, in fact its between roughly twenty to one hundred people. This is because his worshippers are homeless. Some of them are high, others are drunk, all have broken lives that need mending. I was shocked and a bit depressed to read about some of them. One of the congregants named "Cass" had an incredible story about redemption, and a desire to reconnect with his family. This actually occurs, and I dare anyone, not to find themselves crying during the section that involves their reunion. It is proof positive, that its never too late, whether you are in your thirties or ninety years old, to "make a change."

Although I would have loved to have heard about other religious backgrounds, I learned a bit in here. For that I am thankful, and the stories of the Rabbi and Preacher are amazing. They share a lot of similarities, even though the environments are quite different.  This is all about our being connected once again, and Mitch Albom just has a way of pulling at your heart strings. As for the eulogy, I'll admit that I laughed, cried, and smiled. Truly remarkable, as the Rabbi picked the right man for this difficult job. God bless Mitch Albom, as he's opened my eyes in new directions, and helped provide me with "a little faith."

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