The Five People You Meet in Heaven: The Captain

Think about Eddie’s war experiences and discuss your reactions to Albom’s evocation of war.

What did Eddie learn by being in war? How did he “come home a different man”?

Why did the captain shoot Eddie?

Explore what it means when the captain tells Eddie, “I took your leg to save your life.”

Why does the captain tell Eddie that sacrifice is not really a loss, but a gain? What is the significance of this lesson?

For those of you concerned about source attribution, I’m basing some of my discussion questions on those provided by LitLovers, who got their questions from the publisher of TFPYMIH. I sometimes change how they phrase the questions and leave some out, but I’m using them to guide the general direction of the discussion.
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10 thoughts on “The Five People You Meet in Heaven: The Captain

  1. Likely everyone who goes to war comes home changed – possibly more serious, having realized one’s own mortality, but definitely aware that life and death are very real and very much a part of a daily experience for at least some portion of the world’s population. War is horrible and men who have been exposed to the horrors of war deal with all sorts of psychological conditions upon their return to the “real” world.

    If I remember correctly, the captain shot Eddie to stop him from returning to rescue others, a return that would inevitably resulted in their capture. This is one of those “for the greater good” kinds of morality questions – do you run back and save others, risking your capture and the capture of your comrades, or do you save your own skin and sacrifice others for your freedom? According to an article I recently read in Discover magazine (the article is called “The End of Morality”), we are hardwired to do no harm to those around us, even if we can acknowledge that to harm someone nearby would save others at a distance. The Captain had to fight against this instinct in order to shoot Eddie instead of watching him run to the others.

    The captain shot Eddie to stop him from attempting a suicide rescue, and so he probably did save Eddie’s life that day (although I’m sure Eddie didn’t look at it that way, at least until the Captain could explain it).

    The term “sacrifice” generally assumes that one is giving up one thing in order to gain another thing. In this case, Eddie lost the use of his leg in order to gain his life. People make sacrifices like this, although usually on a smaller scale, all the time. I am currently sacrificing my free time (and some sleep) in order to work two jobs. This “sacrifice” means I’ll have enough funds later on to afford graduate school. I would think it beneficial, in the face of a sacrifice to be made, to focus on what will be gained instead of thinking about what will be lost.

    Obviously, the best example of sacrifice is in the spiritual realm. Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice in giving up His life and [temporarily] His relationship with the Father in order to pay the penalty for our sin. The most amazing part of this exchange is that Christ did gain from His death, in that He gained followers who love Him in response to His love, and He did gain a relationship with us, but we gained so much more, and that sacrifice wasn’t one we could make for ourselves.

  2. Think about Eddie’s war experiences and discuss your reactions to Albom’s evocation of war. I think Albom’s most interesting startement about war is the one about : “A freed soldier is often furious. … it all demands a fierce revenge, a balancing of the accounts.”

    What did Eddie learn by being in war? How did he “come home a different man”? I am not sure what he learned. Bitterness, I think.

    Why did the captain shoot Eddie? To save Eddie’s life and also his other crew.

    Explore what it means when the captain tells Eddie, “I took your leg to save your life.” The Captain wanted to keep his crew together.” But if i couldn’t keep you alive, I thought I could at least keep you together. In the middle of a big war, you go looking for a small idea to believe in. When you find one, you hold it the way a soldier holds a crucifix when he’s praqying in a foxhole.” The Captain had a central idea which defined his integrity as a man and a soldier. I am not sure Eddie did. Or Eddie’s central idea was to get the one he saw moving in the fire and he was robbed of doing this because the Captain shot his leg.

    Why does the captain tell Eddie that sacrifice is not really a loss, but a gain? What is the significance of this lesson? Eddie never saw his war effort and his leg wound as a sacrifice. A sacrifice is a chosen offering. He never healed from his wound, but in some ways became his wound. Bitterness set in.

    I may respond more on the concept of sacrifice. Pondering……………

    • Good point about the Captain having a central idea to live by. Maybe the reason Eddie was so consumed by his bitterness over loss and disappointments was because he didn’t have anything else to live for.

      I’d be interesting in hearing your thoughts about sacrifice. I’ve been thinking about how sacrifice is portrayed in this story and whether he was sacrificial.

      • Don’t we already know that Eddie is sacrificial through his last act on earth? He hurls himself forward to reach the child and takes the crushing death blow himself. We don’t know if he succeeded or not at this point in the story, but we know he made the attempt. He was also running into the burning hut to save someone else – someone innocent – thus attempting a sacrifice.

        But he didn’t see all of his life as a WILLING sacrifice. He gave up his dreams to keep his father’s job for him (which his dad never did resume) and then moved in with his mom to care for her, but he still longed for the road not taken and his lost opportunities (as indeed I myself often do) instead of accepting the burden of sacrifice as a privilege.

  3. I thought Albom’s portrayal of war was realistic and found the description of things Eddie learned to be striking and powerfully moving.

    The Captain shot Eddie to save his life from the suicidal mission to save the person from the fire. He didn’t want to leave any of his men behind, so he took this drastic step to save Eddie’s life.

    He was willing to risk his life to save another person and he was willing to fight in the war; both of those acts involved great personal sacrifice. However, I don’t know that Eddie’s leg injury was really a sacrifice, though, because he didn’t voluntarily give up his leg in this situation. The Captain made that choice for him and took his leg to save his life.

    • Yeah, I agree that Eddie’s leg wasn’t his sacrifice; he made other sacrifices.

      “We all make them. But you were angry over yours. You kept thinking about what you lost. You didn’t get it. Sacrifice is a part of life. It’s supposed to be. It’s not something to regret. it’s something to aspire to.” – This is amazing and very powerful to me. I think it’s very, very true and biblical, but it’s something I personally really struggle with. It’s nothing dramatic like being an escaped POW, but I do regret things I’ve sacrificed as my husband’s been a pastor, especially when people turn their backs on us and reject us. I truly hope in heaven, they see that we loved them and were trying to serve God and were not their enemies. Their accusations and rejection of us has hurt me deeply and I am still struggling with not resenting having been in this town for 10 years only to face tremendous loss as our church split – personal loss and certainly financial loss as well. I wish I didn’t have to go through this. I wish I’d never moved here. Being able to look at it as a willing sacrifice – in my case for Jesus Christ – would help me gain equilibrium and perspective.

      • I agree that it’s hard not to look at the lost opportunities and instead to “accept the burden of sacrifice as privilege.”

        I’m going to have to geek out on y’all again: There is an episode of Star Trek where they accidentally create a hole in the space-time continuum and an old ship comes through this hole. This ship had been in the midst of a battle with an enemy force, and at first they are tempted to stay in “the future” and repair their ship and lick their wounds. However, the crew soon discovers that the disappearance of this ship from the past has created a new chain of events and that the future is vastly different than it would have been. When that shipped stayed in the past, one of the warring alien races was impressed by the sacrifice of the humans and therefore willing to reach a peaceful agreement with the Federation. In the new reality, the alien race is still at war with the Federation, and the Federation has turned into an organization of war instead of exploration. In the end, the crew from the past chooses to go back through the rift, knowing they are facing certain death in a suicide mission, but also knowing that their sacrifice will literally change the future and help usher in an era of peace for the Federation.

        [For those of you who are interested, I’m pretty sure this episode of ST:TNG is called “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”]

  4. @Jenni, that’s a cool story that illustrates the point. Albom mentions that thinking one’s dad died a hero is important to workingclass boys, and the Star Trek story reminded me of that: that we WANT our lives to be heroic and have meaning and while we don’t want to die early, certainly dying for a noble cause is worthy.

    • @Mercy, I think you’d enjoy Star Trek, at least some of it. Sci-Fi is almost on par with fantasy as far as coolness is concerned. There are no wardrobes to Narnia on the Enterprise, but they do have holodecks and cool aliens and stuff … and you can pretty much always tell who the good guys are.

  5. To Mercy, churches can be so brutal and to have put so much forth. May there be divine order and right outcomes not yet seen.

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