Author says guilt fueled rise to best-selling fame

Mitch Albom, 51, grew up in the warmth of a fortunate childhood in New Jersey. Not poor. Not struggling. He was just another kid saturated in religion in Hebrew academy, absorbing every book of the Bible in English and Aramaic.

“And then I walked away from it,” he says. “Not because I was mad at it, or anything. I just thought, ‘I’ve had enough of that,’ and I started to get into life and doing things, and succeeding, and ambition.”

He spent his days in prosperity, and his years in pleasures.

After earning degrees in sociology, journalism and business, he became America’s most award-winning sports columnist, in Detroit, penning best-sellers on college football and basketball. He still appears on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters.”

But one night in 1995, Albom was struck with a heavy moral emotion: guilt. His reaction to it would catapult him to broader fame outside of sports, while also putting him in a position to start four charities for homeless shelters and needy kids, seniors and handicapped people in Detroit.

“To be honest,” he says of his charitable focus, “I think it began with guilt — with Morrie.”

That night in 1995, Albom saw a TV interview with Morrie Schwartz, a professor he knew while studying at Brandeis University. Morrie was dying of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Until that point, Albom was no philanthropist.

“I was well known and pretty successful in my field,” he says, “and I didn’t think a whole lot about what life was.

“But I felt guilty when I saw him on TV. And I hadn’t kept in touch with him. I went to see him once, and he said, ‘Will you come back again?’ And I said, ‘OK.’ And one (visit) led to another. When he said he couldn’t pay his medical bills … I felt like I needed to do something, not just walk away from it.”

Albom wrote about his conversations with Morrie in what became the wildly popular book, “Tuesdays with Morrie.” He used money from the book to pay Morrie’s medical bills.

Albom continues to give in many ways. Ten percent of profits from his new book, “Have a Little Faith,” goes to homeless shelters.

To research “Faith,” he slept on shelter floors with homeless people, raising money for the shelter, and getting to know a minister who shepherds them. (He speaks about the book on Sunday at Temple Beth Sholom, 10700 Havenwood Lane.)

Albom doesn’t see anything remarkable about his potential.

“I’m not any better than anybody else. Left to my own devices — and if nothing had ever came in my path that tugged at my heart — I probably would have just pursued my own personal interests.”

But as Albom will tell you (as people in charity often say), helping people begets helping people, because the needy seek those who already aid others.

“Pretty much every day of my life, I’m meeting somebody who’s lost somebody, or dying themselves and wants to tell me their story. So a day doesn’t go by that I’m not made aware of the sadness of the world, or the grief, or the preciousness of life.

“And you realize you can’t walk away from that moment.”

Albom imagines his parents instilled into him that inability to turn away.

“A lot of kids are raised with religion and raised the right way to do the right thing. And then we become adults and get caught up in stuff. It’s a hard thing, being an adult in America. Your head is spinning all the time. Just to get it straight, as to what’s important, is a rare thing.”

Albom doesn’t think of himself as a pious man. If anyone else thinks that, that’s their problem, he says.

“I’d rather they think I was pious than they think I was a fall-down drunk, partier, reality-TV star,” he says. “If people are going to make assumptions about you, let them make assumptions that you’re trying to be good.”

There are difficult nights. Sometimes, he gives a speaking engagement, and people swarm him to tell him about somebody who is dying or who has died.

Then he’ll drive home, and his wife, Janine, will start to tell him a friend is sick.

“And I’ll say, ‘I can’t hear anymore sad stories today. Let’s talk about it tomorrow. I can’t hear one more sad story. Life can’t be just everybody’s sad story.”

So he tries to lead a joyful life, hanging with friends, or playing piano in an occasional band called the Rock Bottom Remainders with Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry and other authors. (The band donates to charities, and asks fans to do the same.)

“You have to have a balance in life,” Albom says. “Any of these people I admired — who I think are really good, special righteous people — none of them ever said to me, ‘Spend every minute of your day in sorrow and woe for the people who have it bad.’

“That’s not celebrating life either.

“I actually joke around more than the average guy, which sometimes throws people, because if they just read your book, they think you must be very solemn. But I’m not a solemn person.

“You can still do (charity) while living a regular American life. That’s one of the reasons I don’t quit ‘The Sports Reporters,’ or quit doing a column, or playing with a band,” he says.

“I want to show you can also live deeply in the moment. I think that’s a good example, too.”

For all the suffering he sees, he does not cry himself to sleep. Instead, he feels gratitude.

“I get up in the morning here in Michigan,” he says. “I drive into the city, and I’m in a blown-apart city. I mean, Detroit is just blown apart. It’s got (18) percent unemployment.

“I go to the area where the church is, which is just devastated.

“They had to build a tent inside the church, and pray under a tent, because the heat was shut off, and the snow was coming into a hole,” he says.

“Every time it rains, I know the whole front vestibule is soaked … and people are sleeping on the floor.

“And I drive back home and I sleep in my nice bed in the suburbs.

“And I find the reaction I have is: overwhelming gratitude. And I mean overwhelming in that physical sense — like, I don’t know what to do with it.

“I was never a big prayer person, or a big ritual person. But I do find myself saying, ‘God … thanks for giving me a warm bed, and a nice life, and walls that don’t leak, because a half-hour ago I was in a place where I was watching men fall asleep on mats on floors, and now I’m in my own bed. How can that be? Why is there such a difference between me and them?’

“I’ll never complain about anything.”

His hope is for me, and you, to find something that draws us to give. He’s certain it’s within us.

“All you have to do is spend five minutes” among less fortunate people “to say, ‘I gotta do something,'” he says.

“I don’t even know you, and I know you wouldn’t walk away from that.”

Doug Elfman’s column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 702-383-0391 or e-mail him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like