The Five People You Meet in Heaven is an interesting and acclaimed book by sportswriter Mitch Albom. It covers the life and death of Eddie the amusement park maintenance man. By all appearances Eddie’s life was inconsequential. He had a wife and no children and worked at the amusement park from when he got out of the Army until he died at the age of 83 in an accident at the same amusement park. Once Eddie dies he meets five people who touched his life and whose lives he touched in impactful ways. I believe Albom’s point is that no lives are inconsequent and we touch and are touched by people in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. When I read the book I find myself empathizing a lot with Eddie which is maybe why I find the book so interesting.
I can’t say I’ve ever thought about what five people I would meet in heaven based on the premise of the book but I’ve often met certain people where the thought crosses my mind how I hope I don’t ever meet them again. Then I start to think that if I went to hell I would probably be around these people all the time. I wanted to write about some of them but I’m normally a pretty positive person so I figured instead of calling this series of posts ‘The Five People You Meet in Hell’ and writing it in a sort of ‘No Exit’ Sartre-esque vein ("Hell is — other people"), I would instead call these people the ones I don’t want to meet in heaven:
A couple of weeks ago Kathy and I were taking Daisy and Baxter on our Saturday noon time walk that winds around town and through an alley that leads to a parking lot by some businesses. While we were walking through this familiar guy was trolling through the dumpster that each business has. I’ll call him ‘Dumpster Dave’ for lack of a better name. Dave has a bicycle with a trailer and is a regular around all the area dumpsters. Most of the time he doesn’t talk to me but when he does he calls me ‘sir’, tells me a tale of woe, and asks me if I can spare a dollar or two. Sometimes I give Dave some money and sometimes I don’t. When I've dropped a George or two Dave would thank me and if I didn't he would move on to the next person or dumpster on his rounds. One time Dave tried to sell me a broken 78 rpm record he found in a garbage can and I gave him a dollar and even left him his broken 78 rpm record to try to sell to someone else. Once Dave was featured in the newspaper for finding a copy of a local newspaper featuring the 1969 moon landing (which was as big a deal for that generation as the Kennedy Assassination, Pearl Harbor, and 9-11 were for theirs). With his wayward beard and shaggy unkempt gray hair to go along with his dumpster diving and panhandling ways Dave gives off an aura of poverty and/or mental disease which juxtaposes oddly against the his nearly new Carhartt jacket, sturdy boots, and while not an overweight man certainly not emaciated.
Well on this particular Saturday Dave saw Kathy and I walking. We were the only people in the alley even though it is a convenient shortcut that people that live east of North Center St use to get their cigarettes and cans of Steel Reserve from the Liquor Depot. It must have been a poor day for dumpstering so Dave yelled from a block’s worth of dumpsters away “Excuse me Sir!” and started running over to me. I knew what was coming and Daisy and Baxter were already starting to bark and howl so I yelled back “Sorry I can’t help you”. I was having a nice walk on a Saturday which I didn't want interrupted by trying to listen to Dave's tale of woe over the incessant barking of my beagles. Dumpster Dave must have been pretty upset because as he trudged back to the dumpster where he left his bicycle and trailer he yelled “I should have known better than ask a heartless guy like you for anything!” which was decorated with some expletives unsuited for a family friendly blog like mine.
I guess Dumpster Dave didn’t remember me as someone who’s dropped a buck or two on him in the past. Maybe he thought I was the kind of guy who would be overcome by guilt and run to payday loan to line his pockets or maybe he thought I’d run over and try to punch him is he could sue me and get on easy street but he was wrong on all counts. I've never felt like I was paying my way to heaven or building up Karma by giving someone a buck or two and I've never thought too much about saying no to the same requests - I kind of go where the spirit moves me. I just continued on our walk and on the next block asked Kathy how she could have married such a heartless guy like me. The next afternoon I was walking Daisy and Baxter (without Kathy). I was listening to music from my amazing iPod with my headphones on heading south and as I passed the iconic Liquor Depot who should I see heading towards me on his bicycle but Dumpster Dave! I turned up the volume on my headphones and if Dumpster Dave had anything to say I didn’t hear it but I doubt he even remembered me since he never looked at me but headed straight into the Depot. I didn’t wait to see what he came out with but my money is on a couple of cans of Steel Reserve. The next time I see Dumpster Dave will be too soon. I don't care if I'm thanked for doing something but I sure don't want to be cursed out for saying no to someone. Dumpster Dave's seen his last buck from me and if he ever calls me heartless again I’ll tell him he’s wrong because when it comes to him I do have a heart – a heart of stone!
Now don’t get me wrong – When I say that Dumpster Dave is one of the five people I don’t want to meet in heaven I am NOT saying he won’t be in heaven or that I will be in heaven. After all Jesus said “Blessed are the poor” or “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (depending on the version and translation and etc...) so Dave probably has a better shot than me despite his sturdy boots and Carhartt jacket. All I’m saying is that if I should happen to get to heaven one of the five people I don't want to meet is Dumpster Dave!