“Will you do my eulogy?”
This is the question that Rabbi Al Lewis asks Mitch Albom at the start of his first nonfiction book since TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. And this question is the start of an eight-year relationship between Albom and the good rabbi.
After years of going through the motions attending synagogue on high holidays with his family, Albom is surprised one day to have “Reb” tap him for the ultimate honor of delivering his eulogy when the time comes. As a child, Albom performed all the rituals of the Jewish religion by rote, all the while praying for a dog and rewriting the Ten Commandments to include “Honor thy older siblings” with his younger brother in mind. As an adult, he married a Christian and declared himself an atheist. But rekindling his relationship with the rabbi brought back a flood of memories from Hebrew schools and services. And Albom intersperses these often humorous childhood reflections throughout his book as he describes how his reconnection with the rabbi evolves.
Strained, almost perfunctory visits morph over time into happily anticipated and cherished exchanges. As they meet over the court of the next four years, the “larger-than-life man of God” who stood at the lectern each week “was shrinking down to human size.” Albom learned the history of the man who for so long had been a mysterious figure in the hallway at school. The Reb shares how he became a rabbi (in a line of many rabbis in his family), how he met and wooed his lovely wife Sarah, how they tragically lost a child, and how he nurtured and loved his congregation, flaws and all. He revealed to Albom all the nuggets he had gleaned from 60 years of ministering his people: that ritual IS religion; that “From generation to generation, these rituals are how we remain…connected”; “it is far more comforting to believe God heard you and said no, than to think that nobody’s out there”; and (my personal favorite) the meaning of happiness is to “be satisfied,” “be grateful.”
During this time, Albom met another man of faith, Henry Covington. Henry is the pastor at the “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” ministry in Detroit, Michigan, a poverty-stricken church and shelter that ministers to the homeless and downtrodden. His path to his congregation and service couldn’t have been more different from Rabbi Lewis’s. Henry was a drug dealer, a criminal who one night found himself hiding behind a bush, holding a gun, fearing for his life (and that of his family) and praying to God to let him make it through the night. And when he did, Henry committed his life to helping others. He helped Albom get over his own prejudices and skepticism, and he shared his gems of faith: “You are not your past” --- words Henry knew all too well to be true.
These two men --- so different in their experiences, their upbringing and their religions --- shared the common threads of faith and hope. And their convictions, their love, and even their senses of humor remind Albom of what it means to be “in love with hope.” His note at the end offers that his book is a “hope that all faiths can find something universal in (this) story.” Albom writes, as he always does, with a loving hand, revealing great intimacies that touch the heart. Like TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, HAVE A LITTLE FAITH reminds us that, despite our differences, we are all human beings experiencing life, love, hatred and death; with any luck in our lifetimes, we will “be satisfied,” “be grateful.”
Reviewed by Roberta O’Hara on January 22, 2011