Archive for the ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’ Category

[Note: Normally I wait to publish my thoughts about the books that I read in a certain year until my year-end “My Bookshelf…” post. But, as I finished writing this reflection I realized that I didn’t want this reflection to get lost among the multiple pages of that post.]

Mitch Albom is one of my favorite authors, but despite that, I had not read this book, published in 1997, until this year. I saw this book in our neighborhood’s Little Free Library so I traded the book Grace Under Pressure for Tuesdays With Morrie.

This book is a conversation between Albom and a professor he had back in college, a professor he had grown close to, considering him a friend and mentor (he called him “coach”). Despite saying he’ll keep in touch after he graduated college, Albom never did and life went on. Then one night he was channel surfing and came across Nightline’s Ted Koppel interviewing Morrie Schwartz, Albom’s old professor, friend and mentor who now was suffering from ALS. That led to Albom reconnecting with Morrie and having a one-on-one conversation about the meaning of life, Albom flying out to visit every Tuesday for many weeks until Morrie’s death.

The reader may find this book sad as he or she reads about Morrie’s deteriorating health. But at the same time, the reader may also find hope and gratitude for Albom and Morrie spending this time together so that Morrie could impart his wisdom not only on Albom but on all who read this book.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” — Henry James (page 79)

There are so many passages in this book that touched me. I’ve bookmarked many pages so that I could go back and re-read them. Part of me wants to keep this book forever and part of me wants to put it back in the Little Free Library so that others will be able to learn from its wisdom. I do believe I will do the latter, but not before presenting here some of the passages that spoke to me in some way.

Albom wrote out a list of topics he wanted to discuss with Morrie, topics that confuse many people and topics that hundreds of self-help books still do not seem to offer adequate answers to. Albom was hoping that Morrie could provide clarity. The list included: Death, Fear, Aging, Greed, Marriage, Family, Society, Forgiveness, and A meaningful life.

None of the quotes below gives a complete picture of the conversation at hand. Despite what some reviewers I have read have written, this book cannot be whittled down to quick little sound bites. This book is more than pockets of wisdom; it shows a redeveloping close relationship between two people, even though one of the two is at the same time slipping away. I would recommend this book to everyone, even to those who think books like these are not “their thing.” I would guess that most people who read this book will be changed by it in some positive way.

The phone rang yet again and Morrie asked his helper, Connie, to get it. She had been jotting the callers’ names in Morrie’s small black appointment book. Friends. Meditation teachers. A discussion group. Someone who wanted to photograph him for a magazine. It was clear I was not the only one interested in visiting my old professor—the “Nightline” appearance had made him something of a celebrity—but I was impressed with, perhaps even a bit envious of, all the friends that Morrie seemed to have. I thought about the “buddies” that circled my orbit back in college. Where had they gone? (page 32)

I envied the quality of Morrie’s time even as I lamented its diminishing supply. Why did we bother with all the distractions we did? Back home, the O.J. Simpson trial was in full swing, and there were people who surrendered their entire lunch hours watching it, then taped the rest so they could watch more at night. They didn’t know O.J. Simpson. They didn’t know anyone involved in the case. Yet they gave up days and weeks of their lives, addicted to someone else’s drama.

Morrie…had developed his own culture—long before he got sick…He read books to find new ideas for his classes, visited with colleagues, kept up with old students, wrote letters to distant friends. He took more time eating and looking at nature and wasted no time in front of TV sitcoms or “Movies of the Week.” He had created a cocoon of human activities—conversation, interaction, affection—and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl. (pages 42-43)

Although I think creating a “cocoon of human activities” is a worthwhile pursuit, and I sometimes think I want this in my life, I’m still not ready to give up watching the “Murdoch Mysteries” and “Scorpion” TV shows, and in the case of “Scorpion” blogging about it and carrying on online conversations about its characters and plotlines.

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “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.” (page 52)

…”even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.” (page 84)

“The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family. It’s become quite clear to me as I’ve been sick. 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 is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.'”

“Say I was divorced, or living alone, or had no children. This disease—what I’m going through—would be so much harder. I’m not sure I could do it. Sure people would come visit, friends, associates, but it’s not the same as having someone who will not leave….” (pages 91-92)

“…If you hold back on the emotions—if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them—you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.

“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.'” (page 104)

I wonder if this experiencing and detachment work for anxiety?

…if aging were so valuable, why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.”…

He smiled. “You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. Unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. 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. (page 118)

“Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? … Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” (page 127)

Upon reflection, while all of these tidbits of advice are wonderful, one thing that no one ever gives advice on is how to do these things. More specifically, how to make friendships that last. In the past, I’ve written letters and emails to reconnect with relatives and old friends. I’ve also gotten involved in my community in the past. But none of this has led to a “cocoon of human activity” or closer relationships with relatives or close friendships. I’m thankful for the friends that I do have, even if we’re not as close as we once were. I’m also thankful for my husband, who without him, I would have no close friend or close family at all. Having a “cocoon of human activity” and friends and family around you are important, especially as you get closer to the end of your life. But, how can this happen when no one wants to reciprocate your attempts at friendship or any other type of relationship for that matter? A question that seems to not have any answers, unfortunately.

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