One-on-One with Author Mitch Albom
In Have a Little Faith, the bestselling author chronicles one man’s journey, but everyone’s story.
In his first book of nonfiction work since Tuesdays with Morrie, author Mitch Albom confronts a central question: What if faith wasn’t what separated us, but what brought us together?
The story begins with a simple request from Albom’s childhood rabbi, Albert Lewis: “Would you deliver my eulogy?”
Although the request strikes the writer as odd, Albom accepts, on one condition: he is allowed to get to know the rabbi—not simply as a cleric but as a man.
And so an eight-year exploration of God, religion, and faith unfolds.
Along the way, Albom also becomes involved with a church that tends to the homeless under the care of a charismatic pastor named Henry Covington. Preaching in a decaying church with a huge hole in its roof, through which rain and snow pour in during services, Henry is an amazing example of how faith can touch and transform lives.
For Albom, Have a Little Faith is story about believing in something and the two very different men who taught him how.
“It took a long time to write,” Albom writes. “It took me on one journey, then another, to churches and synagogues, to the suburbs and the city, to the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ that divides faith around the world.”
Albom’s candid and heartwarming story brings two completely different men from two completely different worlds to life in an inspiring fashion, while sharing his honest, personal journey along the way.
To learn more, the Post spoke with author Mitch Albom in Detroit.
Post: Today, millions of Americans are struggling with economic and spiritual challenges, so Have a Little Faith is hitting bookstores at a very appropriate time. What message do you hope people take away after reading your newest book?
Albom: In my heart of hearts, one message is that faith should not divide people—the us versus them that separate people and nations around the world. Today we pounce on differences between others and ourselves, often with the sentiment “they’re different, so you can’t trust them.” Isn’t it time the pendulum swung in the opposite direction? The best thing that can come out of bad news is the chance to reflect, “Is there a life lesson I could learn from this?”
Post: In the book, you discuss how you drifted away from your religious roots, writing, “It wasn’t revolt, it wasn’t some tragic loss of faith, it was if I was being honest, apathy.” Why do people lose sight of the bigger picture?
Albom: We have it too good. It’s no an accident that people who were historically challenged the most tended to be closest to their faith. Life can become too easy. It certainly was for me. I achieved success early in my career. My feeling about religion and spirituality was I’ll go my way and you go yours. I wasn’t telling other people not to have faith. At that point, I simply thought they needed it more than I did, because everything was going so well. Aren’t we all like that? For the most part, Americans have it good. What people traditionally sought from faith, we find—or think we find—in success, status, and amusement. For a while, you get away with it, but then tragedy or illness hits. In my case, somebody was introduced into my life that led me to gain new perspective, and you realize that you might have been shortsighted before.
Post: How did chronicling the lives of these two extremely diverse yet powerful men change your life?
Albom: I am very moved when I see people fervent about their faith. I learned that not just from watching how much faith made a difference to Albert Lewis in his final days, but also from getting to know Pastor Henry Covington. When I first met Henry, I didn’t trust him to be honest. From that naïve impression to what I feel for him now is radically different. I’ve seen what he has gone through and how he inspires other people. I’m quite moved by what he does.
Post: Is religious tolerance part of what you’re trying to promote?
Albom: It is. Rabbi Albert Lewis devoted his life to the Jewish faith. But I liked what he said: “God didn’t make one tree, he made all kinds of trees.” In other words, within Creation, all faiths are beautiful—all different and all the same. That’s a much healthier, tolerant attitude than trying to prove yours is right and everybody else’s is wrong. The plain, simple, maddening fact about religion is that no one is really going to know who is right or wrong until we’re no longer here. Why fight about it while we’re alive? Why spend the time on earth differentiating ourselves from others by saying “I don’t like you because of this or that?” Why not be tolerant?
Post: Saying Sorry on the importance of forgiveness was a very poignant chapter in Have a Little Faith. Was this a particularly moving moment for you?
Albom: In Tuesdays with Morrie, he told me about a guy with whom he had a silly argument that was Morrie’s fault. He found out that the guy had died from cancer. He burst into tears, saying “I never got the chance to tell him I was sorry. Why did I let that nothing argument separate us all these years? It’s so small now; it means nothing to me now.” I sat there helpless, and that’s when he said, “Forgive everybody of everything.”
I’ve never forgotten that.
When Rabbi Lewis told me that “you’re supposed to forgive everyone one day before you die,” I asked, “What’s the day you die?” He said, “Exactly.” I experienced that with Morrie. I left one Tuesday, and when I came back, Morrie was gone. I did the same thing with Albert Lewis: I left for long periods of time in between visits—weeks—and at age 90, it’s pretty clear, every time you left, you rolled the dice. So it was important for me to say I’m sorry. By that time, the end of the journey was near, and it was OK to be close with him. When he told me we would see each other again, that was one of the most moving moments with him. When someone says something very emotional to me, I tend to make a joke because I’m probably not really ready to handle it. When I asked, “Do you think we’re really going to see each other again?” He said, “Don’t you?” I said, “Come on, I’m not going to the same level you are.” He said, “Why would you say that?” Then I was caught. I said, “Because you’re a man of God.” He looked away, kind of tearing up and said everybody is a man of God. All those moments were near the end of his life.
Post: In Tuesdays with Morrie and again in Have a Little Faith, you profile two incredible mentors. Do you consider yourself fortunate?
Albom: I was lucky. I always knew that Morrie was special as was Albert Lewis. If you asked people to name a couple of older people they look up to, most could come up with a couple names. Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed older people’s stories. All my books are based on older people. The Five People You Meet in Heaven was based on an old uncle of mine who died in his 83rd year. He was a war veteran. When he told his war stories, all the kids split. I was always the last kid left sitting there. I knew how the story was going to end, because I had heard it a hundred times. I always enjoyed the company of older people; I always felt safe and like they knew something that I didn’t. So it’s probably not unusual for me to look to older people for my stories just as some children’s book writers look to children. I hope there are a few more in my life.
If more information about Mitch Albom and his various philanthropies, visit his Web site at mitchalbom.com.