Tuesdays with Morrie
Mitch Albom (Adult Memoir)
It was to be professor Morrie Schwartz’s final class. A class with no grades, no textbooks, and no final exam. Weekly oral exams were required and a long paper on what was learned was expected (a kiss good-bye earned an extra credit). The subject would be The Meaning of Life and the class would cover such topics as family, work, aging, forgiveness, love, and death. It would last fourteen weeks (fourteen Tuesdays to be exact), be held after breakfast, and would have just one pupil—a former student by the name of Mitch Albom who had lost his way somehow. Thanks to Ted Koppel, Mitch found his way again because he had found Morrie Schwartz.
Tuesdays with Morrie reminded me of John Gunther’s 1949 memoir Death Be Not Proud. Both were a celebration of life and showed us what true courage, grace, peace, and humility look like. Mitch Albom provides us with an honest, candid, and raw account of his beloved professor’s last weeks on earth as he battles and eventually succumbs to the ravages of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. His account of his time with Morrie is heartbreaking and humorous, tragic and hopeful, and gives us a precious glimpse into the life of a man who accepted his fate with dignity and generosity. By openly sharing his steady decline with Albom and by conducting several interviews on national television, Morrie cast modesty and privacy aside with the hope that those touched by his story may cherish the time that they have been given and re-evaluate what was truly most important in life.
Throughout his memoir, Albom blesses us with many of Morrie’s aphorisms: “Do the kinds of things that come from the heart.”; “Love each other or perish.”; “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”; and his last one, “Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hang on too long.” Albom’s story of his former professor and friend is bittersweet because we know how the story is going to end. With each turn of the page, we understand that we’re getting closer to Morrie’s final day and although we hope that never turning another page might mean that Morrie could somehow avoid death, we know that isn’t possible and that his fate has already been determined and carried out.
Tuesdays with Morrie explores humanity and what it means to be a part of humankind. Although published in 1997, Morrie’s insights and observations ring just as true today as they did almost twenty-five years ago. Back then, while society was caught up with Princess Diana, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the trial of O. J. Simpson, Morrie said to Albom, “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” How unfortunate that this is just as relevant today as it was nearly a quarter of a century ago.
In his final weeks, scores of Morrie’s former students traveled domestically and internationally for the chance to visit their favorite professor one final time. Morrie knew, better than anyone, that the role of educator carries a tremendous amount of responsibility and influence. In death, as I imagine it was true in life, Morrie gave each one of his visitors his undivided attention and made them feel like they were the most important thing in the world. He made everyone feel important, special, and loved. That was Morrie’s legacy and his hope for the future. That everyone would feel good about themselves.
At one time or another, we’ve all had a favorite teacher, camp counselor, or coach who had a profound impact on the way we wanted to model ourselves as adults. They encouraged, supported, and challenged us and their influence will always be a part of us. But what we often fail to realize, and what Albom reminds us of, is the effect that we—as students, campers, or athletes—have had on their lives as well. The gestures of appreciation, the thirst for knowledge, the desire to please is just as important and meaningful. It’s a fragile circle that can be strengthened with a simple “Thank You” or weakened with a harsh word. But through Morrie and Mitch, we’re shown just how joyful this unique bond and relationship can be and even though graduations and retirements come and go, the learning—the loving—never stops. As Morrie said, “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.” Well said, Professor. Class dismissed.
*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com
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