Internationally Best-Selling Author Mitch Albom Brings Storytelling to the Forefront
DATE: NOVEMBER 8, 2020
PROGRAM: ALWAYS EVOLVING WITH COACH MIKE
GUEST: MITCH ALBOM
HOST: MIKE BAYER
(START OF PODCAST)
COACH MIKE BAYER: Welcome back to Always Evolving. My next guest is really a legend in the writing, authoring…he’s created so many different projects that have had massive success. So many #1 New York Times bestsellers, uh, Mitch Albom is joining Always Evolving today. You may know him from Tuesdays with Morrie or uh, his latest book Finding Chika, but he’s written so many books we’re gonna talk about it today. So thanks for joining us, Mitch.
MITCH ALBOM: Hi!
MIKE: When I say you’re creatively, I think you’re creatively brilliant because you really seem to be able to communicate in such a way that people connect with what you put out. I’m just curious, like, I know I talked to you briefly when we were over at Dr. Phil and I was asking you about your writing process. But when did you realize that you were such a communicator with your art?
MITCH: Well, I think…you know, I’ve always been good at telling stories and I always say that’s pretty much the only talent I have. I just do it in a lot of different mediums. So, you know, I’ve told stories in newspapers and newspaper columns and books and movie scripts and plays, but it’s all kind of the same thing and that comes from, uh, a family that always told a lot of stories around the dinner table, you know? And I came from, my family, there were five of us—three kids and my parents, but then we have a very big extended family and any time we got together for holidays or things like that, it was very much like, “If you can’t tell a story, you can’t hold the floor.” So I’d have some aunts who would get lost in the details, you know? They’d say, “So all right, it was 1945, no maybe it was ’46, maybe it was…” and everyone would say, “Ah, forget you” and they’d move onto somebody else. And I would watch this as a kid and I would say, “Okay, the key is—don’t lose them with the details” you know, ’cause then I’d have like my Uncle Eddie and he would tell these war stories that were just great ’cause he just knew how to cut right to the chase. He’d say, “So there we were, comin’ over the hill and the bombs were going up behind us.” And anyway, I said, “Okay, that’s how you tell a story.” So I, I learned, because you know, eventually I got old enough I wanted to tell some stories myself and I learned, “Okay, you’ve gotta get rid of this stuff, keep this stuff” and that was the beginning of my learning how to, how to write even though I hadn’t written anything at that point, didn’t really learn how to write until my 20s. I didn’t study writing in college or anything like that, but I was always a good communicator. I’d always tell a good story and so I think when I married words with what was already kind of my, whatever natural gift I had, it just sort of made sense that I’d be able to write books that, you know, would be good stories.\
MIKE: And, and you started earlier in your career writing stories in sports and you still do…
MIKE: …you are in the sports world, but…
MIKE: …did you feel like when you were in that space that you had a lot of creative freedom to tell the stories you really wanted to tell or was it kind of from the top down, they were like, “No Mitch—these are the stories we want”?
MITCH: Well, I was really blessed in that I got to be a columnist very young, uh, by 25 I was already a columnist and columnists in newspapers are given the latitude to express their opinion on things and be creative with the writing, as opposed to a straight reporter who is obligated, at least supposed to be, ethically by just reporting the facts and not inserting opinion. So I was given a pretty wide berth even when I was, was very young and I worked for newspaper, first in Fort Lauderdale and then in Detroit where I still am, that they encourage me to do, like the unusual thing. So within the first three or four years of my job as a columnist there instead of just writing about the Detroit Tigers or the Detroit Lions, you know, the football team or baseball team—I had gone to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, I had gone to the Iditarod in Alaska, I had covered all kinds of weird sports around the, around the world and they liked it. They encouraged it and so um, I always learned that the thing about writing sports was I tried to write for the person who didn’t know anything about sports. I always had like a grandmother in North Carolina in mind, you know, never went to a game, never understood the rules—can I make this story interesting to her? If I can make this story interesting to her, then all the sports nuts, they’re gonna read it anyhow because they read everything that comes out about sports. If I can make it interesting to that person who never knew anything about sports before, then I’m doing what a storyteller should do or what a columnist should do—I’m drawing the people in. And so I always focused on the human parts of the stories. I often wrote about the losers not the winners because more people can relate quite frankly, to people that lose than, than win and the second place finishers and things like that and I tried to always have some kind of human element in my sports stories and I guess that when I was 37 and suddenly this opportunity came with an old professor of mine named Morrie Schwartz to, to tell a story not for the public, I was doing it to pay his medical bills but, but it was so far a field you would think from sports but really it wasn’t that far a field from the way I wrote sports and mostly about, you know, human beings and relationships and, and so when Tuesdays with Morrie, you know, sort of presented itself, I guess I was sort of ready.
MIKE: Right. And, and…in term-you’re saying, like, in terms of telling a story, ’cause I, you clearly have the art of storytelling, you, the don’ts are “having too many details,” if you were to say, give me, you know, the dos, the kind of like, “Here’s what some magic is when you tell a story—do this.”
MITCH: Okay. Uh, so I’m gonna give away all my, all my secrets uh, right here, so…
MIKE: Everyone’s, listen—Mitch, everyone’s already copying you, so we’re good.
MITCH: (LAUGHS) Well, first of all, uh, your characters have to be interesting to people, or I always, I always look at it like I’m trying to get somebody’s attention. There’s a thousand things going on out there, the internet is calling them, television is calling them, sports are calling them—when you’re, today if you’re in the writing business, you’re in that entertainment swirl, same thing with you doing this podcast or doing Dr. Phil, same thing Dr. Phil’s in, he’s in the same big swirling uh, uh, grasp for people’s attention. Whether it’s the internet, the television, movies, music, whatever—something is always trying to get their eye. And so am I. And so if I’m writing a book, first of all if I have a character that nobody can relate to or nobody’s interested in, you’re dead in the water. Doesn’t matter what plot you have or whatever—nobody, people first wanna relate to people. So the characters have to be relatable. Secondly, uh, don’t take too long to start. I was, I was trained as a newspaper writer, as a columnist and so I was always up against, “Are they gonna read the second paragraph or are they gonna go…” and turn the page and go to another page? So I always tried to put everything, like, right in that first paragraph, make that first paragraph so interesting. And I remember when I was writing Tuesdays with Morrie, uh, which was really sort of the first, you know, non-sports book that I was taking on, I was really struggling over the first page of it and the first page of it and the editor said to me—“Why are you, you know, killing yourself for this first page and rewrite?” I said, well, you know, “’Cause I don’t wanna lose ’em.” He said, “Look…a book is not a newspaper column, okay? They’re gonna give you 10 or 15 pages before they give up on you. Don’t try to make it all on the first page.” So I didn’t, but my instinct is still get people right from the very beginning. Get something that happens. So for example, in The Five People That You Meet in Heaven, you know, one of my first novels, it had become a popular book, it begins with, uh, “This is a story about a man named Eddie…” and it begins at the end with Eddie dying in the sun, you know, that’s the first paragraph. You might think it’s strange to start a story with an ending, but all endings are also beginning, we just don’t know it at the time. Well that’s just a couple sentences but like, to me, that’s like, “Okay, wait, we’re starting with a guy dying and, and uh, and I don’t know that this is the beginning or it’s the ending—it’s intriguing. It tr-tries to, you know, pull you in. And I tried to do that with all my books and that’s another little piece of advice for people to do, you know, like make it interesting from the start because you’re up against so much competition for people’s eyes, very few people anymore are gonna pick up a book and say, “Well, I’ll give it a hundred pages and see if I like it.” They’ll give you, like, they’ll give you six (LAUGHS) you know?
MIKE: Yeah, you know, I, I’ve come in recently to a lot this. I think I’ve mentioned to you, like, I was behind the scenes for years, two years ago, uh, Dr. Phil asked me to come on an episode and think all of a sudden I went on 40 episodes and it started taking off and I’m, and I, I have a lot of friends, I’m always attracted to creative people, and um, one of my friends who’s been on the podcast a few times, his names Richie Jackson, he’s Lady Gaga’s uh, choreographer, he does a lot of her creative direction. And as my career in the last few years started to take off, I started to public speak more and it is really such an art, like you’re describing about even if you’re speaking, how do you start it? How do you grab their attention? How do you adjust your shirt? And how do you make that moment happen to get somebody’s buy-in to then subscribe to the story? Because, the worst thing, we were laughing about it last week, we were saying, “The worst thing you can do is go up on stage, and you see it a lot, they go, “Sorry everyone, I’m really nervous.” All of a sudden…
MIKE: …we’re not even focused on the story we’re…
MIKE: …looking at your nerves.
MITCH: That’s right. Well you know, Shakespeare, uh, if you’re gonna look at a lot of his plays, his plays began with battle scenes and I found out when I went to England and met with some people there, you know, knew a lot more about Shakespeare than I do, that in his early days, they would start plays in the middle of the square and so, you know, they didn’t always have a theater and so how do you get people’s attention in the middle of the square where you don’t start it with a soliloquy. You don’t start it with two people really quietly talking—you start it with a battle scenes. You start with two guys with sword fights, right? And they’re going at it, so people start to gather in the square and start to watch and now they’re into the play. So I thought, “Well wow—if it worked for Shakespeare…” (LAUGHS) you know?
MITCH: It’s, there’s no shame in trying to do it yourself. So that’s exactly what you’re talking about there, too.
MIKE: You’ve been through so many cycles of books and projects and four of your books have become TV movies and you’ve written songs that have ended up in, in—you’ve done a lot, right? Everything from charitable work and I imagine there’s been different times in your career where like, you—and, and Oprah always says success is cyclical, right? Like it kind of just goes like this—do you, like, how do you manage, ’cause at one time you have a book, like Tuesdays with Morrie, I think you, it was a number one on New York Times for like a year, or something?
MITCH: Four years.
MIKE: How long?
MITCH: Four years.
MIKE: FOUR YEARS! Four years—that’s how long it takes to graduate college, okay?
MITCH: (LAUGHS) Yeah.
MIKE: For an undergrad. Fou—no one else got that spot for four years. And then as you come out with different projects—do you ever have that feeling, like, “Do you guys know who I am?” or, like, because you’re not a flashy guy, right? Like you’re not—but do you, how do you keep, do you not care? Are you just like, “I’m just focusing on the art of what I’m doing”? Or does anything kind of irk you?
MITCH: Well not, nothing really irks me because I think there’s no-nothing was promised to me and I wasn’t, it wasn’t like I was born and said, “Hey, you’re guaranteed to have X number of book sales.” I’m more…I’m already, even before Tuesdays with Morrie, you know, I had already had a lot of my dreams come true with regard to writing. I mean, I got a newspaper column when I was 25. I never thought I’d have that and I started as a musician and had very, very low expectations. I thought if I ever earn $10,000 a year, you know, who could ever want more than that? And so, you know, I think a lot of, you’re forged a lot by what you think early on and, and I did not succeed as a musician. So my early experience was failure, not success. You know, the thing I really loved the most, being a musician, (STAMMERS) I could not make a living at. You know, nobody wanted to make my records, nobody wanted to hire me for whatever it was at that time and, and I went through two or three years of all the lights turning red instead of all the lights turning green and I think when that happens to you when you’re young, you always retain that. And so…
MITCH: …even though now I’ve had many successes as a reference, I still, every time I put a book out I expect the worst. I expect the lights to go red and I’m always, almost like taken aback when someone says it’s good or someone says, “Yeah, we wanna publish it.” It’s still to this day, even 30+ years later, I, I’m still oriented towards that early memory of failure. And so I don’t really expect a lot and I didn’t, you know, even in music I wanted to be a producer. I didn’t wanna be a rock star. I wanted to be a guy in the studio b-with all the little buttons and everything. That’s the—I would have been perfectly happy with that. So as an author it’s, it’s more, you know, people don’t generally race up and scream and squeal and throw their clothes off at our office.
MITCH: Generally the way it works, and I’m sure the problem’s somewhere but it isn’t me. Uh so I, I never got into it for that part of it. Um, I’m always pleased when people say, you know, “Your book changed my life” or “Your…
MITCH: …that story changed-when we read it at my father’s funeral” or “I was feeling so down and I read it and it changed me.” And, and, you know, because then they’re saying, “The work that you did had an effect on my life.” They’re not saying, “You had an effect on my life,” you know, “You…” you know, “I look you up wherever you go” I think that would be a little odd almost. I, I don’t envy movie stars and people like that (STAMMERS) who get fans, but they’re, they’re less fans of their work than they are of their personalities for some reason, or their looks, but my fans read my books.
MIKE: Mm hmm.
MITCH: I don’t think there’s anybody out there who hates me but likes my books. I think it’s, you know, there’d be no point, so um, I’m quite happy with this sort of little corner of the world of being known without it being about your face or your personality, or whatever—being about the work that you do.
MIKE: Well I, I’m curious because you’re, at so many levels, knows so much about journalism, right? And…
MIKE: …what have you seen really change, um, since you, you’ve been in journalism and you can also step out and look at it. I, I’m more on the outside, right? Like…
MIKE: …I grew up, you know, reading the, the LA Times or USA Today on planes and, you know, kind of—what, what is really changed for the good and maybe the not-so-good?
MITCH: A lot. You know, I’ve been in it a long time I got in it very young, um, so the better part of 30+ years and I would say that you heard me mention before like a columnist that the role of a columnist was the one part in the newspaper where you permitted to express your opinion. That has disappeared. Uh, there doesn’t seem to be much delineation anymore between a reporter, a feature writer, a columnist—there’s so much personal opinion in it and so much slant and so little interest in getting the factual parts of the story, which are so critical because history will look back and say, “Well what happened during that time?” and nobody’s really writing what happened, they’re writing what they think or what they think should happen or what their opinion is of somebody. And it’s gonna be very hard years from now to really be able to glean, you know, “Okay, what were the facts of the situation?” Not, “What did people think about it?” Also it’s gotten very angry, you know?
MITCH: You can’t seem to get a name for yourself in this business anymore unless you’re willing to just strike somebody down or go after somebody, be venomous, uh, you know, be a pit bull, and those are the people who get attention, those are the people who get their own shows, those are people who get frequently on television and (STAMMERS) it’s permeated. There also is a great difference between print journalism and TV journalism when I was coming up. In fact they had rules for years when I first started. You could not go on television if you worked for a newspaper—it was considered, you know, first of all, they’re competitors, secondly there’s a different set of principals, whatever, you’ve gotta make a choice. I remember newspaper people saying to me, bosses, “You wanna go on television? You’ve got to make a choice—one or the other, you can’t do it.” And they slowly started to let people go on panel shows and, you know, as long as they identified themselves from the newspaper and then newspapers began to shrink and lose business in a tremendous rate. Television became bigger and bigger and it became untenable for newspapers to tell their people “You can’t be on TV” because people would say, “Okay, bye-bye. I’m going to television.” So the only way to sort of keep them was to allow them to cross-section but now it’s hard to tell the difference of it anymore. So I would say that’s the biggest thing, it’s gotten louder, it’s gotten angry, it’s gotten less responsible and far, far, far more opinionated, uh, to the point that I would recommend to anybody who really seriously wants to understand what’s going on in the world, you must read at least five sources every day. And make sure that those sources run the gamut shortly of the political spectrum, because if you’re just watching CNN, just watching Fox News, just reading the New York Times, you are not really understanding what’s really going on 360 degrees, um, for you to be able to choose, “Okay, this is my…this is my, uh, understanding of what’s going on in the world based on hearing five different people.” If you had five kids and you let one kid who is responsible for breaking the, the sugar bowl, right? You don’t hear the other four kids’ stories, okay you’re going with that one but you better make sure that’s the right one.
MIKE: And how do you think it could end up? ’Cause sometimes over time, right, things really fragment, they fracture, they break apart, they get rebuilt, reinvented, ’cause I have to imagine there’s a lot of people, I’m one of those people, that, that misses and loves actual, like, uh, balanced perspective and approach and feel like I’m reading something but I don’t even really know the writer’s opinion. Like, there’s no slant, it’s not trying to convince me, do you—how do you think it could end up there because I know a lot of people really want that, like, I’m not attracted to angry journalism (LAUGHS) like, just, I, I just go, “Ugh…”
MITCH: Well, I think you’re in the minority, though…
MIKE: Really? I think, yes, I think both from a ratings point of view and from a sales point of view in their respective industries, the evidence shows that more people are interested in the louder opinionated person or type of presentation of the news than they are of the straight and balanced one. Trust me, if there wasn’t money in it, it wouldn’t be heading that way. And sadly, to answer the other part of the question which, as you asked, “Do I think it could change or go back or how would, what would happen in the future—I don’t. I think people are sort of headed towards just picking their news the way that they pick sort of their, their favorite coffee place. They like that one, you like that one, and never the twain shall meet, you know? And, and they wanted, you know, everybody’s got their device, first of all, everybody’s attention span is five seconds. They’re getting the news from Twitter, from Facebook, these aren’t journalistic places, you know? YouTube…and yet they’re perfectly content to say, “Well, I’ll just, if it’s important, somebody’ll tweet it out.” That’s, that’s not, that’s not really the way you should understand the world so I have a lot of optimism about it.
MIKE: Yeah, and to your point it’s the same thing with people who really, you know, I, working with entertainers for many years and traveling the world and we see how people respond as fans, too, it’s the same idea of loving someone so much because of what you see on Twitter. Or loving someone so much just because—it, it’s just, it’s kind of um, you know I, I’d like to find, I find this culture of lifting up people to be voices or having megaphones has felt lately like it’s extreme degrees of who they’re gonna give the microphone to. It’s like, what’s gonna be the loudest, right? Like, what’s…
MIKE: …gonna be the noisiest and…I don’t know. I surely hope, at least I hope to channel and be around people collectively who um, who don’t get in that noise because I think that just, for my own serenity I, I, like I’m living by this new rule that I’ve decided in the past week that I’m not offended. I’m not offended over anything. I’m not offended if someone flicks me off, I’ll be like, “Eh, they flicked me off…” like, I refuse to give power or way to the noise.
MITCH: Well, that’s good idea. Um, and uh, you know, perspective is really what you’re talking about and uh, I am a huge believer in perspective. I think the further back you pull a lens, the more you understand the world and it’s one of the reasons that I have, for coming up on 11 years now, I have an orphanage I operate in Haiti and I go there every month and I say this only as answer to your question—I’m there every month, um, we have 52 children, their issues are about hunger, are about medical care, are about um, trying to get them educated, are about extreme, awful poverty, second poorest country in the world, and when I’m there, uh, I don’t, I don’t get CNN or Fox or anything like that. There’s no way anyhow—we don’t have internet, we don’t have computers, whatever—I’m just trying to help children, you know, who I consider to be like, my extended family now. I mean, I’ve brought all them into the orphanage, we’re raising them, we’re trying to get them college-educated—when those become your problems and your challenge is, you see how quickly you can lose, you know, whether you care about who won a ballgame, who won a debate, who’s the biggest star in the world at the moment or anything like that—it all just seems very small. And so I look for, uh, experiences that can give me that big wide lens and can make me feel small. I enjoy feeling, um, put in my place and, and being reminded how small my life is because it comes with the sort of grandeur of how big the world is and how amazing the world is. Uh, so it’s not a put down, it’s something that really helps you say, “Okay, you know those worries I had yesterday? It’s just not that important.” If I can help (STAMMERS) this child here and I’m gonna get him fed and that belly that’s swelled from malnutrition is gonna go down and he’s gonna smile and we’re gonna…how can anything I have in my life be as important as that?
MIKE: Mm hmm. No I’m, I’m with you. I mean, and I, I love that you’re doing, like I’ve been to Iraq several times in the last few years, last time I went alone to open up mental health clinics for Yazidi women and when I go, it’s almost like nothing, I don’t even hear anything else. I do need to ask you, though, because I had real challenges when I got back to the States getting people, you know, you see it, you experience it, you go to Haiti…
MIKE: …and did you, at least I had this experience—you had a lot more than me ’cause you’ve been to Haiti a lot more than I’ve been to Iraq but—did you have a point where you first were trying to get people on board with helping people in Haiti and then you were like “Enough is enough—I’m just gonna do it?” Or were you, did you go to Haiti and just go, “Oh, I’m just gonna do it”?
MITCH: Well, no, well I mean, first of all there’s an advantage in that Haiti’s a lot closer than Iraq…
MIKE: (LAUGHS) Yeah.
MITCH: …and uh, so I have been able to bring people down and I’ve learned in over a decade that nothing tells a story like being there. So my, all I really tried to do is just, I put all my effort in trying to get ’em to come with me. I don’t have to talk. If I, “Listen—just come down for a day.” I’ve had people come literally for a day, come down on a Saturday to go back on a Sunday. I said, “Just come down, give me 12 hours, it’ll take care of itself.” And, to a person, it is never fail, when they see these children and how happy they are and how joyous they are despite having no computers, no phone, (STAMMERS) no internet, no television, no parents, no shoes in many cases and yet they’re, they’re, and it’s pure childhood.
MITCH: They’re just loving children, and that nobody has ever gone home from there without being moved or without wanting to help. And so my big challenge is just getting, getting somebody to come. But I’ve learned that, you know, you better have the passion in your own heart. If you wanna try to do good, you’re gonna have to be ready to do it alone.
MIKE: Mm hmm.
MITCH: If all you wanna do is, “Well I wanna do if six other people wanna do it.” That’s not gonna work because sometimes those six other people are gonna find something else that’s more important to them. But if this is really truly important to you, you’ll need to be able to toe the line alone, even though hopefully you won’t have to. And there have been many times in the past 10 years that I’ve been left toeing the line alone both, you know, time-wise, financially, everything, and that’s okay, I’m fine with that. And if that’s the way the world is gonna be, that’s fine. But meanwhile, if I can get people to come, like you one day…
MIKE: Yeah! I’m down.
MITCH: …um, you know, I know the rest will, their eyes will be open and the rest will take care of itself.
MIKE: And what was your, uh, trip to Haiti? What was your experience?
MITCH: Right after the earthquake of 2010, that’s what brought me there. I was there two weeks after the earthquake because a local pastor had thought that this orphanage that he had operated had been destroyed and all the kids had been killed. And I couldn’t imagine, I mean how could—just kids being killed under rubble and nobody knew , that they were alive or dead and so I helped arrange to get a small plane into Haiti. I knew a senator who was able to clear us some military time and we flew in together, me him and a couple other people and went to this orphanage not knowing if we were gonna find people dead or alive and uh, fortunately it had not collapsed and uh, but it was overrun. There were hundreds of other people there now trying to get food and get water and anything like that and just, I’ve never seen devastation like I saw after the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
MITCH: Especially just a couple weeks after it had happened and then there were still people bleeding out in the street and that, and, you know, everything was piles of rubble wherever you looked and there was a dust that hung over the whole country just from all the, the, you know, crushed concrete that was there, you know, your face was constantly, you were constantly wiping dust out of your eyes and, and um, you know, people begging for food, begging for water and if they saw, like a trickle coming out of the street from a sewer somewhere they’d run with a cup and try to get it and um, I just never stopped going back. I mean, I went and then I just kept coming back and, and within a few months, the pastor who was in his 80s at that time basically turned the place over to me and said, “If you want a run it you can run it.” He didn’t have any money, and I took it over. I’ve been running it ever since and um, grown it up to be quite a much bigger place and better place. Built a school, kitchens and dormitories and toilets and showers. All of which none of it had existed before and um, now it’s, you know, it’s my life. I mean, I’ll be there the rest of my life and uh, and the kids that we have, 52 children and that’s kind of our, my wife and I’s extended family. They’re, all have sco-college scholarships waiting for them.
MITCH: At Burka, that’s, you know, that’s my third act, you know?
MIKE: That’s beautiful, and there’s a need, right? A big need for people to actually be of service and help and reach out—some friends of mine, a good friend of mine has two kids, beautiful kids he adopted from Haiti, um, and I got, I have a bunch of friends, interestingly, that are passionate about Haiti. You may know some of them, like, connect with you offline, but pretty good people to know who are also rallying behind and I’d love to go at some point, but eventually you adopted Chika.
MITCH: Yeah. Chika was, uh, born three days before the earthquake and the third day of her life she was in this tiny cinderblock house with her mother and lying on her chest and the earthquake hit and the house collapsed around them and the roof fell backwards, it was a piece of tin, fell backwards and the walls fell down and they were left like, naked to the sky, you know, but alive, so the third night of her life she slept out in the sugarcane fields on a little bed of leaves and I always say “She was born tough,” you know? Third day of your life you’re sleeping out in the fields and two years later her mother died giving birth to a baby brother because there was no doctor present ’cause there was never a doctor for poor women in the provinces like that and, and uh, she was left an orphan and she was brought to us and uh, she was for a couple years the bossiest, loudest little kid we had and she told everybody what to do and she was funny in that way. She was like, Ethel Merman in size one shoes, you know? And then um, uh, when she was five years old, uh, she developed a brain tumor and, we brought her to America thinking, “Well, they’ll take care of her,” you know, “it’s America with American medicine.” And it turned out to be something that was a death sentence. It’s called DNIPG. Usually kids die within four months of getting it and they told us “Just take her back to Haiti and let her die, there’s nothing anybody can do,” but I knew how tough she was and how stubborn she was and what a fighter she was and said, “No if she’ll fight, we’ll fight.” And uh, she ended up living two years, uh, she’s to—she never went home. She just stayed with us and we traveled around the world trying to find a cure for her. Um, and she lasted, you know, almost a record, uh, for someone with that particular disease and um, along the way we became a family. Very unlikely family and my wife and I were already in our 50s and here was this little girl who didn’t look like us or talk like us or sound like us but we couldn’t have loved her anymore if she was the spitting image of us and she taught us a million things about life and family and what’s really important and um, you know, we had those blessed two years and we, and I say in the book “We didn’t lose a child, we were given one.” I wrote a book about it to, to pay, to create a new fund for our kids and medical needs. And so all the proceeds from the book go to help any of the other 52 kids who develop medical problems as they will like Chika did, and it’s called Finding Chika and that’s the, that’s the story of our time with her.
MIKE: When you found out that she had a, you know, basically a death sentence with a tumor and, was this the first time that you had brought someone to the US who was living with you and…?
MITCH: Yeah. Yeah, we had brought some of the other kids once or twice for, you know, some checkups and medical things but nothing that was life-threatening like that. Um, and we were kind of blind to it and we thought, “Oh, she’ll be back. In a couple months she’’ll be back.” Then when they told us how serious it was after they opened her up, we realized she was never going home and then suddenly you’re in your mid-50s, you’re, you know, you’ve got a life of just two people. Suddenly now it’s three everywhere you go. Three at the table, three in the car, you know, three, three in the bedroom, you know, so we put a little bed in front of our bed and now you wake up and she’s crawling into your bed and…
MITCH: It’s delightful in its way and we, you know, we got married late so we never had children of our own and suddenly here was this whole, you know, they had all that experience with her but there was always a shadow around like, “Yeah, but—it may not last. Tomorrow may be the day that she’s gone. The next day may be the day that she’s gone.” And so we really live very intensely for those two years with her and run every ounce of joy out of, out of that, those moments and uh, and they were joyous, you know? We were, we were given the blessing of a child and uh, and she was a pretty special kid.
MIKE: Yeah I saw the videos that you would post and you ended up posting your Facebook and Instagram and…
MIKE: …there, it’s really beautiful and it’s, on one hand it’s like, “Oh my gosh,” like “look at this girl, she’s so spunky and fiery…
MIKE: …and, and amazing and then on the other hand, it’s really sad, right? Just sad that, you know, here’s um, someone who could really have a shot at this life, was essentially at three years old being, you know, on the street, so to speak, and, and what do you, what do you make of this, right? Like, in this, I know there’s wisdom and all of it but just this experience. Do you look at it now—at the time, what, were you able to see how beautiful it was? Or was it later on looking back that you…
MITCH: Yeah. I mean, there were plenty of moments where, you know when, when she looked up at us one night and she said, “How did you find me?” And I said, “How did we find you?”
MIKE: I just got the chills.
MITCH: Yeah. Um…
MITCH: …I said, “You mean, ‘How did you come to us?’” And she kind of nodded but I realized she meant it the way she asked it—“How’d you find me?” because of her, you know, orphans, the kids that we take in, they don’t really remember where they come from or what their natural mothers and fathers if they leave them at one or two. And so they, they have this image of us riding through the woods on a white horse or something and, “Oh, there’s a child, let’s pick it up and bring it” ’cause they see that in the movie. And um, that’s why I called the book Finding Chika because she was so interested in where, you know, “How, how did I get here?” You know, and she would always, when we walked in, she would always have a blanket over her hiding from us so when we would discover her, you know, we’d go, “Where’s Chika? We don’t know where Chika is?” and you’d see this thing shaking like that, you know, laughing. And then she’d throw it off and say, “Here am I!” you know, or something like that ’cause her English wasn’t her first language and, and uh, you know, you had beautiful moments like that that you knew were beautiful. You didn’t need to wait until she died to have perspective on it. But by the same token you also are always turning and trying to find something, trying to find the purity. You’re always thinking, “Is there another doctor I can call? Is there”—we moved to Germany and lived there for a while just to try to get her immunology treatments. We were in Cologne, uh, where there was a program, a very, very good program, an immunology program for DNIPG kids but, you know, there was always another. There was a London treatment and there was New York and there was Texas and there was Mexico and there was—I mean, you spend so much time just trying to figure out what to do but, but um, but we still had plenty of time to appreciate her and how special she was and uh, it was, it was a gift.
MIKE: And is your wife’s voice at all in Finding Chika? ’Cause I imagine…
MITCH: Oh yeah.
MIKE: Was it kind of co-authored, in a way or…?
MITCH: No, no, no—she didn’t co-author, she didn’t get involved with the writing but she was such an integral part of our, raising her (STAMMERS) I, I break the book into like, seven things that Chika taught me ‘’cause she was seven years old when she died. So seven little lessons. And one of them was about my wife and how much you appreciate your spouse when a child come into your life and if you’re like me and like a lot of guys I think sometimes you, when you were younger and you were worried, like, “Oh, if we have kids, then she’s gonna be paying attention to all the kids all the time and not me and this beautiful thing we have between each other is now gonna have to be shared.” It’s such stupid, immature thinking, you know, really what happens is your life becomes so much richer than that, that growing from two to three, or two to four, whatever the case is, enhances your relationship, makes you realize how precious your spouse is and how lucky you are to be with them and watching her with Chika was a, was such a gift to see her become a mother and so uh, yeah, that was the sixth thing that I said Chika taught me, so…
MIKE: What, yeah, what, in terms of uh, also just you being a parent during that period of time because you don’t have kids—anything that you realized in your parenting style that was a little surprising to you?
MITCH: Um, that I was good at it, you know? I thought I would be bad at it but yeah, in all, it was just special.
MIKE: Well Mitch, thank you for coming on Always Evolving. It’s been a pleasure. Everyone check out Finding Chika. Thanks man—really appreciate it and we’ll uh, connect soon.
MITCH: Thanks Coach Mike. Been a pleasure talking to you and any time you wanna chat again, I’m here for you.
MIKE: You got it, buddy. Thanks for listening to Always Evolving. Follow me on social media Coach Mike Bayer and, feel free to share anything you find helpful or useful on any of the podcasts, of Always Evolving, also I have my free Tuesday Empowerment group at 5pm Pacific time, just go to CoachMikeBayer.com to join and I have some really great guests coming up over the next few weeks. So I can’t wait for you guys to check it out. Thanks again.
MIKE: The Always Evolving with Coach Mike podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a replacement or a substitution for any professional, medical, financial, legal or other advice diagnosis or treatment. This podcast does not constitute the practice of medicine or any other professional service. The use of any information provided during this podcast is at the listener’s own risk. For medical or other advice appropriate to your specific situation, please consult a physician or other trained professionals.
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