By Daniela Detore
One of this generation’s most celebrated writers. Author of seven books, all receiving ‘New York Times Best Seller’ honors, a 30-year columnist for the Detroit Free Press, a featured Sports Reporter for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and many other respected publications. A lyricist, and a once determined musician who taught himself guitar and piano. A philanthropist, an award worthy radio talk show host, one of the country’s most accomplished journalists.13-time by the Associated Press, National Sportswriter of the Year.
Mitch Albom stood before more than 1000 students, faculty, alumni, trustees and community members in the Field House last night, Oct. 19, for the fourth annual Arts and Humanities speaker series.
And he sang.
The crowd sang along to “Come and Go With Me,” by the Dell Vikings.
Cheers, singing and laughter filled the airspace as Albom continued to impersonate Elvis, and play “Misty,” on the keyboard, in various speeds.
“I started as a musician and my whole life I thought I was going to be in music. I never thought about anything else,” Albom said. “And I failed.”
Albom claimed that his failure in music was his first transformative moment of his life. Although at first, he dwelled on his failure of his dreams, he now knows that it sparked a series of events that shaped his life. He compared it to dominos falling.
After graduating from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Massachusetts with a degree in Sociology, Albom, after a backpacking adventure in Europe, chased his dream of being a musician.
Ending up in New York City, he saw an advertisement in a free daily newspaper of writers wanted at a local newspaper. Sitting uncomfortably upon failed dreams, Albom thought he’d take a whack at writing.
“First time I learned that just because the light doesn’t turn green for you, doesn’t mean your life is over,” he said.
Albom eventually landed a job at the Detroit Free Press after his front page debut of a thrilling story about parking tickets in Queens. Humbled by the start, it sparked the beginning of a colorful sports writing career.
Until 20 years ago, Albom was known for just that, a sports writer. But all changed on a Friday night when watching Nightline, hosted by Ted Koppel, when he saw an old professor of his, Morrie Schwartz, who at the time was dying of ALS.
The interview of his old professor sparked a series of Tuesdays that Albom would visit Schwartz in his final days.
This birthed the mega-bestseller “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
Between the covers of the New York Times bestseller, is a classic tale of a relationship between professor and student, never mind the age. Albom admitted that the book was simply written to help Schwartz pay his medical bills, that had been accruing for over two years.
Albom assures that his wise professor never feared death, or the way he would die, but rather feared what would happen with his family after he had passed.
So Albom wrote the chronicles of their Tuesdays.
He went around to many publishers in New York and told them how much money he needed and they all said no. They criticized that because he was a proclaimed sports writer, that he couldn’t write something of his dying professor – that just wasn’t who he was supposed to be.
But, Albom claimed, for the first time in his life he was doing something for someone else, so that’s why he didn’t give up.
“Taking is reminding me that I’m dying, giving makes me feel like I’m living,” Albom quoted Morrie. “Giving is living.”
And Albom continued to give.
In 2010, catastrophe hit the small country of Haiti. An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0, followed by two aftershocks both with magnitudes greater than 5.0, shook the earth and left the country in ruins.
Albom took a trip to Haiti and what he saw was horrifying. Citizens walked around with missing limbs, and people were covered in ashes. The smell of death lingered days after the ground was shook from the core. Yet when he stood in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, he claimed every time he stood with his hands down as his sides, he would look down to see two children clinging to each hand.
Since that day, Albom has rebuilt the orphanage where 47 children have their first toilet, their first shower, their own beds and were able to attend their first day of school.
A day Albom claims to be, “Once in a lifetime.”
He began taking monthly trips to Haiti to visit the orphanage. His overlook of the orphanage lead to a phone call he would never forget from Alain Charles, the 32-year-old director at the Have Faith Haiti Orphanage/Mission in Port-au-Prince.
“I thought of Morrie because it was 20 years, right to the month, I saw Morrie on TV that I got the call that Chika was sick,” Albom said.
Over that phone call, Charles told Albom that Chika’s face was drooping. After a series of testing, and MRI’s, she was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma.
“A four-letter acronym for death,” Albom said of the terminal disease.
Albom brought Chika to the United States for surgery that would hopefully “cure the incurable,” as he put it in a recent article of “Chika’s Story,” Albom published in the Detroit Free Press.
A disease that put a timer of Chika’s life of five more months, was prolonged to 23 months thanks to the love of Albom. Within Chika’s final two years, Albom adopted her and considered her his own.
“For two years I got to sort of see what It means to be a parent and what it means to lose your child,” Albom said. “I don’t think that there will be any lesson that will hit home harder than that.”
In the 20th anniversary of Morrie’s death, Albom lost the closest thing he ever had to a child.
“I used to sit alongside Morrie in bed when he was dying,” Albom said. “When you’re the younger person and the older person is dying it’s hard, but it’s something that feels like ‘this is going to happen in life’, you’re going to be sitting with them and they’re going to die one day.”
Albom choked back tears.
“When you have to do that with a child, it’s different.”
Subtle nods washed over the audience. The field house fell so silent, the audience careful not to breathe too loudly. Careful not to let their hearts weep too hard.
Albom gave a dying young girl from Haiti the fullest life she can live, in her seven short years.
So Springfield College gave back to him.
Through the thoughtfulness of Alumni relations, Springfield will be donating 47 teddy bears to the orphanage in Haiti during spring break where students will travel for alternative spring break.