The book Tuesdays with Morrie: an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson, was written in the form of a memoir in 1997. The author Mitch Albom recounts the last fourteen Tuesdays with his favourite professor Morrie Schwartz, before he dies. The book centres on the theme of learning about life through death. In 1999, a film adaptation of the book also came out, with the same title. Mitch uses many flashbacks throughout the book, some to his own youth, others to Morrie’s. Mitch will never forget the impact that this amazing teacher had on his life, and he wrote the book in the hopes that Morrie could continue to impact other people’s lives too.
Mitch first met Morrie at Brandeis University majoring in Music, where Morrie used to teach him sociology. The book begins with Mitch Albom recalling his graduation at Brandeis University in 1979. He and his family met his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz and he presented him a monogrammed briefcase. He promised Morrie, who is crying, that he will keep in touch, though he does not fulfill his promise.
Mitch once promised himself that he would never work for money, that he would join the Peace Corps, and that he would live in beautiful, inspirational places. Instead, he went on to live a life that he never wanted to. He gave up a failing career in music and became a workaholic sports journalist for a renowned newspaper. He promised his wife that they will have children, but was mostly travelling around the country and abroad for reporting assignments. He bought a house, cars, invested in stocks, did everything on a deadline, exercised like a demon, made more money than he had ever figured to see, and buried himself in accomplishments.
Years after Mitch’s graduation, Morrie was diagnosed with an enfeebling and fatal disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which forced him to forfeit dancing, his favorite hobby. With time he had to give up all physical activity from driving to walking and was confined to his bed. The disease left his “soul, perfectly awake, imprisoned inside a limp husk” of a body. Yet he refused to be depressed. Instead, he had become a lightning rod of ideas. He jotted down his thoughts in the form of short notes and wrote bite-sized philosophies about living with death’s shadow. He even organised his own “living funeral” so that he may be able to hear all the good things that people have to say about him. He craved human touch.
For sixteen years, Mitch stayed out of touch with his favourite professor. He finally contacted his beloved professor when he came to know about his disease through a popular TV show, the Nightline. He visited him at his home in Boston where Morrie greeted him by saying “My old friend, you’ve come back at last.” They use their college time aliases for each other. While Mitch calls Morrie, Coach, Morrie calls Mitch player, who could “play all the lovely parts of life” that he was too old for. Morrie tells Mitch about the “tension of opposites”, whereby one wants to do one thing, but is bound to do something else, and they take certain things for granted. In this tension, Morrie says, “Love wins. Love always wins.” Their first meeting goes well and Mitch is affected in the ways his professor used to affect him in college.
Morrie asks Mitch to prepare a list of topics on which he would want to talk with him. Mitch does that and they talk over those topics over the next fourteen Tuesdays like their college times. They were “Tuesdays people”. Mitch and Morrie, thus, start working on what they call their “last thesis together”.
On first Tuesday, they talk about the world.
Morrie tells Mitch the thing that he was learning most with that disease i.e. learning how to give out love, and to let it come in. Sometimes we don’t engage ourselves in love just because we think we don’t deserve love, or we think that if we let it in we’ll become too soft. Morrie quotes from Levine saying that “Love is the only rational act.” We must find solace in silence and be embarrassed by all the noise but we do the opposite.
On second Tuesday, they talk about feeling sorry for oneself.
Morrie opens up to Mitch telling him that he mourns over his condition every morning, but he doesn’t allow himself any more self-pity than that. A little each morning, a few tears, and that’s all. How useful it would be to put a daily limit on self-pity, just a few tearful minutes, then on with the day.
On third Tuesday, they talk about regret.
Our culture wraps us up with egotistical things, trillions of little acts just to keep going. We need to develop a habit of standing back and looking at our lives and asking, “Is something missing?” To get answers to such questions, we all need teachers in our lives.
On fourth Tuesday, they talk about death.
“Everyone knows they’re going to die,” Morrie says, “but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.” The approach that we need to take is to know that you’re going to die, and to be prepared for it at any time. This would make us more involved in our lives while we are living. “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
On fifth Tuesday, they talk about family.
Family is the foundation, the secure ground, upon which people may stand. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. “Love each other or perish.” Without love, we are birds with broken wings. Family gives one the spiritual security that they are there watching out for you. Nothing else can give us that.
On sixth Tuesday, they talk about emotions.
We need to detach ourselves from emotions. It doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. This is how you will know about the emotion, recognise it, and then detach yourself from that emotion for a moment. Morrie observes that most of the patients at a mental hospital are the ones who “had been rejected and ignored in their lives, made to feel that they didn’t exist.”
On seventh Tuesday, they talk about the fear of aging.
One has to embrace aging. As you grow, you learn more. If we stayed young, we would always be as ignorant as were when we were young. “Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth.” Moreover, aging is like going back to being a child again. “Someone to bathe you. Someone to lift you. Someone to wipe you.” Those resenting aging and wanting to be young again are the ones with unsatisfied, unfulfilled lives. If we always battle against aging, we will forever be unhappy because it will happen anyhow.
On eighth Tuesday, they talk about money.
We have been brainwashed so much that we put our values in the wrong things. Certain things, like having more money, are repeated to us over and over, so much so that we start believing it’s true. But in reality, we are so hungry for love that we have started accepting substitutes. We need to be able to differentiate between what we want and what we need. The thing that would actually give us satisfaction is “offering others what you have to give….Your concern. Your storytelling.”
On ninth Tuesday, they talk about how love goes on.
Love is the only way to stay alive, even after you are gone. When you think of the voice of a person, he is there with you. As of the present, one should believe being fully mindful of the moment. That means you should be with the person you’re with. Try to be focused only on what is going on between you. Not something you have done earlier and not something that you ought to do after.
On tenth Tuesday, they talk about marriage.
Morrie tells Mitch that marriage is a very important thing to do, and we are missing a hell of a lot if we don’t try it. We don’t really know ourselves, then how do we expect to know someone we are marrying. “Friends are great, but friends are not going to be here on a night when you’re coughing and can’t sleep and someone has to sit up all night with you, comfort you, try to be helpful.” Morrie, however, gives five rules for love or marriage to work: respect your partner, compromise, communicate openly, have a common set of values, and most of all believe in the importance of your relationship.
On eleventh Tuesday, they talk about their culture.
Our culture and economy engrain a certain kind of threat, of losing things, into our minds. This makes us mean and we start looking out only for ourselves. We thus need to build a subculture of our own. This does not mean disregarding every rule of our community; we can obey the little things. “But the big things – how we think, what we value – those you must choose yourself. You can’t let anyone or any society determine those for you.” We should look beyond our shortsightedness; at our potential, at “stretching ourselves into everything we can become.”
On twelfth Tuesday, they talk about forgiveness.
“Forgive yourself before you die. Then forgive others.” For all the things we didn’t do in our lives or those that we should have done. We need to make peace with ourselves and everyone around us. At the fag end of our life, we will realise that there is no point in keeping vengeance or stubbornness or pride or vanity.
On thirteenth Tuesday, they talk about the perfect day.
This is what Morrie said when he was asked by Mitch what his perfect day would be. “Let’s see . . . I’d get up in the morning, do my exercises, have a lovely breakfast of sweet rolls and tea, go for a swim, then have my friends come over for a nice lunch. I’d have them come one or two at a time so we could talk about their families, their issues, talk about how much we mean to each other. Then I’d like to go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven’t seen in so long now. In the evening, we’d all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck – I love duck and then we’d dance the rest of the night. I’d dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted. And then I’d go home and have a deep, wonderful sleep.” Simple, yet so perfect.
On fourteenth Tuesday, they say good-bye.
When Mitch visits Morrie on the thirteenth Tuesday, Morrie’s health has become much worse and he realises that his time had come. But Morrie doesn’t go gently into that light. He says “My…dear friend…I’m not…so good today…tomorrow will be better.” Mitch had always taken crying to be touchy-feely stuff, but that day, saying goodbye, he cried. It was a moment of satisfaction for Morrie, he had finally made him cry. Morrie asked Mitch to come tell him his problems by his grave and he will give him the solution. This is how they say goodbye.
The relationship between Mitch and Morrie in this book is deep and multi-layered. At one moment, it is a relationship between a valued teacher and a receptive student, at another the relationship deepens into a mentor-mentored relationship, at yet another moment, it is a father-son type relationship, and last but not the least, a relationship between an older man of wisdom and a younger man ready to absorb that wisdom during fourteen weeks of visits together on Tuesdays.
Morrie dies the following Saturday. He wanted to be cremated and so his ashes are buried at a serene place that he had chosen beforehand. He had also chosen the epitaph for his tombstone.
“A Teacher to the Last”.
On the day of burial, as asked by Morrie, Mitch imagines a conversation with his late “Coach” and it feels so natural to him.
Morrie Schwartz died in 1995 but his ideas continue to influence generations to come through this book.
My favourite quotes from the book:
- “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
- “Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.”
- “Accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it.”
- “Don’t assume that it’s too late to get involved.”
- “People see me as a bridge. I’m not as alive as I used to be, but I’m not yet dead. I’m sort of . . . in-between.”
- “I’m on the last great journey here and people want me to tell them what to pack.”
- “So many of the people who come to visit me are unhappy. Why? Well, for one thing, the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.”
- “Love wins. Love always wins.”
- “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. 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.”
- “Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.”
- “In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right? But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well.”
- “Be compassionate, and take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.”