QUICK! What’s Mitch Albom’s religious affiliation?
We don’t really know how to describe that—exactly, do we? But, just like Eckhart Tolle and Patrick McDonnell, who we told you about last week, Mitch Albom moves millions. Period.
He encourages us to “Have a Little Faith.” It doesn’t matter that he’s never been to seminary. It doesn’t matter that he’s not ordained. We’re happy to be his congregation.
Because his books are mirrors—inviting us to stop and look inside ourselves for a moment.
That’s why our coverage of Mitch’s latest best-seller is written by Lynne Meredith Scheiber in a different style than a typical news-feature on the debut of an important book. See what YOU think …
“I DID NOT EXPECT …“
MITCH ALBOM’S FAITHFUL DEBUT
By Lynne Meredith Schreiber
I had no idea what I was in for when I purchased a ticket to the Fox Theatre to see Mitch Albom on stage with a number of famous folks—and I had little time to think about it.
By the time my kids arrived home from school, I was near tears. I’d spent an eternity with AT&T trying to get the right modem (they’d sent the wrong one) and schedule a tech to repair a phone line. I’d been shuttled to 12 different operators and hung up on twice.
My children threw their backpacks on the floor and headed for the kitchen. One son wanted tomato sauce in a bowl. My daughter wanted something sweet and ignored my pleas for her to get dressed for gymnastics. I was still on hold, which made it difficult to assuage the whines of my three-year-old, who clutched his blankie and his stuffed giraffe Buddy and wailed for me to pick him up. It was amidst this chaos that I learned that the kids had not been bathed at their dad’s house the night prior, making it three nights since their last cleansing.
When we finally got in the car for gymnastics—late—my mind was swirling. How would I get Eliana to the gym on time, bathe the boys while she flipped and cartwheeled, pick her up at 6:25, make dinner and be back home for the babysitter to arrive at 6:45 so I could leave for the debut of Mitch Albom’s new tome, “Have a Little Faith”? I couldn’t ask a new babysitter to bathe my kids and I didn’t want to leave them to do their homework with an unfamiliar person.
“I’m sorry honey,” I finally told my daughter as I turned the car around. “We’re going to have to skip gymnastics today so that we can get everything else done. I’m truly sorry.”
It was chicken nuggets for dinner. Asher and Eliana pulled out pencils and papers for homework. Baths for three children. Pajamas on. Hair brushed. The sitter arrived.
And we made it to Mitch’s opening, which was general seating in the cavernous Fox Theater—just in time to climb with my friend Tracy into the last section of upper seats.
On the stage, a plush couch sat between two upholstered chairs. To the right were an array of microphones on stands and to the left a piano, guitar and other instruments. The lights went down and short, smiling Mitch walked out on stage in a tuxedo, beside a one-legged African-American man on crutches and his beautiful daughter Myracle.
The man took the mic and began telling his story of homelessness, despair and eventual redemption. And when Mitch took the focus, he made it clear that the night was dedicated to helping people without homes and that the book was about believing in possibilities and in salvation.
I’ve been fascinated and annoyed with Mitch Albom for years. When I was an energetic University of Michigan student, I followed his coverage of the Fab Five basketball players. His writing and attention to these young superstars made me see my own university in a different light than the one that shone on my dorm room and $1-pitcher happy hours.
But as an aspiring writer, I wasn’t sure I admired Mitch. He was well-published, with an impressive business-like approach to his career: spreading his efforts among several mediums (TV, radio, print, books, theater) for maximum revenue streams. He built a brand around of his commentary. I saw the musical background in his writing, the way Mitch uses a catch-phrase every few paragraphs to grab attention—the lyrical refrain of the story.
And he finds good stories to tell. The stories behind the sport, the story of a professor dying from ALS, Lou Gehrig’s awful disease, the stories that pull the meaning out from the muck.
But there are more talented writers, if not more successful ones.
That night at the Fox, I did not expect to become mesmerized by the words of TV anchor Bernie Smilovitz as he told of his parents’ survival during the Holocaust; and I did not expect to swipe tears from my eyes for a half-hour as 91-year-old Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell spoke of the peace he’s found facing terminal illness.
I did not expect to stare in an unbroken line as my childhood rabbi, Harold Loss, shared the stage with reformed drug dealer and criminal-turned-pastor Henry Covington; and I did not expect to enjoy listening to Dave Barry, the R&B artist Kem, Anita Baker and others, speaking of how their faith guides their lives. And while I myself have been fascinated with religion and ritual and faith and the concept of unwavering belief since I was a teenager in a secular suburb of Detroit, I did not expect 4,000 people to pay $45 a seat to sit until 10:30 p.m. on a weeknight and listen to people profess that faith and faith alone has seen them through some of life’s darkest moments.
“If there is one thing you all take away from tonight,” Mitch said to the audience. Mostly, he conducted interviews and shone the spotlight on his guests, but he turned to us for this point, “It’s this: We all worry and run and plan—for what? What really matters? In our daily lives, we get frustrated with the little things and we worry about what we cannot control and we plan for the future instead of focusing on the moment and what we have and what is meaningful in our lives.”
Well, that’s not an exact quote. I didn’t write it down. But, it’s like he was speaking directly to me—way up there in the upper tier of seats.
Think about what matters, he told us. Think about the details, the moments. It occurred to me that my trying Wednesday afternoon was the perfect prelude to an evening of pondering the meaning of life, putting it all in perspective.
Twelve years ago, I interviewed Mitch Albom over the phone for an article in the Detroit Jewish News about young Jews who were making a difference in the city of Detroit. He was newly married and not overly religious. On the phone, Mitch was patient and kind and he gave great quotes for my article. There was so much I wanted to ask but didn’t. At the time, I was on a personal journey toward religion—which would end up in spirituality, not scripted ritual—and Mitch was known for only loosely admitting to his membership in my Jewish tribe.
Mitch’s newest book, “Have a Little Faith,” is about getting to know his childhood rabbi, Albert Lewis, in the elder man’s final years, so that Mitch can construct and deliver his eulogy. And it mirrors the journey of his relationship with Henry Covington, another man of faith with a remarkable story. And it ends up telling the story of faith and belief, of tradition and spirit and guidance from a source about which many people maintain a certain skepticism.
America is at once a religious nation and a nation freeing itself from religion. For centuries, we’ve had an odd relationship with faith here—it’s as if people don’t want to admit their undying faith because it would make them appear weak. And yet so many Americans are believers.
To gather a group of personalities on a stage and ask them about faith … it was a night of public profession of belief, a night of admitting human limitation.
Driving home that night, Tracey and I talked about how faith is required to escape futility. We must believe there is something bigger or what would be the point of our days? She noted that our shared heritage teaches that a soul returns to Earth until it has accomplished the task it was sent here to do.
Most of us maintain an unwavering faith, even if we do not articulate it.
We are faithful that there will be another day.
A future for our children.
Love around the corner.
Food on the table.
Heat under our roofs.
Faith is the act of not giving up, and faith is believing we matter.
For a man who began his career as a sportswriter at a Detroit newspaper to take a leap of faith and write about the meaning behind it all, well, I walked away from that night at the Fox with a newfound respect for Mitch Albom. He may not be churning out Pulitzer-worthy works, but he has grabbed the attention of a nation and told stories that make a difference. Stories that get us all thinking. And talking. What’s more his book debut was pinned to a cause he believes in.
Mitch talked that night about the concept of home, and how he has come to call Detroit home, even as the 49 states around us spew criticism and disdain for a city that, from the outside, seems to be eternally dying. He spoke with Anita Baker and Bernie Smilovitz and Ernie Harwell about why we all call Detroit home and what, in fact, it takes to make a place a home.
This sense of community, of relying on one another, of spinning shared stories in a place that receives us, whether we’re on top or struggling to come out from beneath the ashes.
Ernie Harwell shared this story: The great trees of California, he said, the ones that live for 300-400 years, actually have very shallow roots. What keeps them standing through the storms and the winds is their ability to interconnect their roots and cling to one another so that none of them fall to the ground. They endure this way for centuries.
Faith and home are not incongruent subjects. In fact, they depend on one another for survival. For years, I, like so many, yearned to live elsewhere. I tried New York, I tried Washington, D.C., and every place I traveled, I imagined how different life would be if I were to pick up and move there, establish a life in a new place.
And one day I realized that home is a place inside. A sense of home can only happen when one is where she needs to be, when she is comfortable in her skin, when she has a belief that everything happens for a reason and there will be another day and another day and another day until the string of days continues unbroken and her faith is a lighthouse among roiling seas.
That Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre was not only Mitch Albom’s book debut—it was a siren call for us to wake up and assess our lives. To make sure we are making a difference. The night was dedicated to helping the homeless; all proceeds from ticket and book sales went to two worthy Detroit causes.
Mitch is one of many people who have worked long and hard and, once they achieved success, started giving back to those who need it most. I left the theater and walked into a dark, cool night, with my head swirling once again—and a deep respect for people who use their success to amend someone else’s plight.
There but for the grace of God go I …
It was a night to open the eyes of thousands and reflect the light of the moon onto the landscape. Every single person has a purpose and can make a profound impact. The challenge is to rise to our own occasions and find the meaning beneath the surface. And I, for one, intend to succeed.
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