I read Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom and reviewed it as part of my ongoing series.
Quick review: I read this book on the recommendation of a close friend and it has joined my ranks of must reads. A moving story of love, life and gratitude, it features sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, his one time student at Brandeis University, Mitch Albom, and Morrie’s life post being diagnosed with ALS. Mitch learns of his former professor’s diagnosis and goes to visit his one-time mentor. The first visit turns into two turns into a regular visit on Tuesdays in what ultimately becomes the professor’s final class: The Meaning of Life. Written as an extended interview, it features Morrie’s perspective on “love, work, community, family, aging, forgiveness, and, finally, death.” It is a short book, yet full and weighty. I found myself pausing, reflecting, and rereading more times than I can remember. It will be a book I come back to, confident I will find more to take away from the simple yet profound last class of Mr. Morrie Schwartz.
Additional materials to complement your reading:
ALS is like a lit candle: it melts your nerves and leaves your body a pile of wax. Often, it begins with the legs and works its way up. You lose control of your thigh muscles, so that you cannot support yourself standing. You lose control of your trunk muscles, so that you cannot sit up straight. By the end, if you are still alive, you are breathing through a tube in a hole in your throat, while your soul, perfectly awake, is imprisoned inside a limp husk, perhaps able to blink, or cluck a tongue, like something from a science fiction movie, the man frozen inside his own flesh. This takes no more than five years from the day you contract the disease.
The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
“Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.’
“Mitch, I don’t allow myself any more self-pity than that. A little each morning, a few tears, and that’s all.” I thought about all the people I knew who spent many of their waking hours feeling sorry for themselves. How useful it would be to put a daily limit on self-pity. Just a few tearful minutes, then on with the day. And if Morrie could do it, with such a horrible disease …
Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too — even when you’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling.”
So we don’t get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying, Is this all? Is this all I want? Is something missing?” He paused. “You need someone to probe you in that direction. It won’t just happen automatically.” I knew what he was saying. We all need teachers in our lives. And mine was sitting in front of me.
“The truth is, Mitch,” he said, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.’ ”
“This is part of what a family is about, not just love, but letting others know there’s someone who is watching out for them. It’s what I missed so much when my mother died — what I call your ‘spiritual security’ — knowing that your family will be there watching out for you. Nothing else will give you that. Not money. Not fame.”
“But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.’ ”
Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. You want to see more, do more. You can’t wait until sixty-five.
“I envy them being able to go to the health club, or go for a swim. Or dance. Mostly for dancing. But envy comes to me, I feel it, and then I let it go. Remember what I said about detachment? Let it go. Tell yourself, ‘That’s envy, I’m going to separate from it now.’ And walk away.”
“Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.”
“Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.”
And love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.”
“That means you should be with the person you’re with. When I’m talking to you now, Mitch, I try to keep focused only on what is going on between us. I am not thinking about something we said last week. I am not thinking of what’s coming up this Friday. I am not thinking about doing another Koppel show, or about what medications I’m taking. “I am talking to you. I am thinking about you.”
“People are only mean when they’re threatened,” he said later that day, “and that’s what our culture does. That’s what our economy does. Even people who have jobs in our economy are threatened, because they worry about losing them. And when you get threatened, you start looking out only for yourself. You start making money a god. It is all part of this culture.”
the biggest defect we human beings have is our shortsightedness. We don’t see what we could be. We should be looking at our potential, stretching ourselves into everything we can become. But if you’re surrounded by people who say ‘I want mine now,’ you end up with a few people with everything and a military to keep the poor ones from rising up and stealing it.”
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
“As I see it, they have to do with love, responsibility, spirituality, awareness. And if I were healthy today, those would still be my issues. They should have been all along.”
Taking just makes me feel like I’m dying. Giving makes me feel like I’m living.”