Tuesdays with Morrie is a bestselling nonfiction book by American writer Mitch Albom, published in 1997 (ISBN 0-385-48451-8). The story was later adapted by Thomas Rickman into a television movie (directed by Mick Jackson), which aired on 5 December 1999 and starred Hank Azaria as Mitch and Jack Lemmon as Morrie.
It tells the true story of Morrie Schwartz and his relationship with his student, Mitch Albom. Both the film and the book chronicle the lessons about life that Mitch learns from his professor, who is dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
After five years in hardcover, it was released as a trade paperback in October 2002. It was re-released as a mass-market paperback by Anchor Books in January 2006. According to this edition, 11 million copies of Tuesdays with Morrie are in print worldwide.
Tuesdays With Morrie
In the best-selling memoir of all time, Mitch Albom recounts his time spent with an old professor, Morrie Schwartz, as he was dying from ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The memoir, based entirely on recorded conversations between Albom and Morrie about life’s most important lessons, was initially proposed for the sole purpose of paying Morrie’s medical bills. Four years later, it had spent 205 consecutive weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List.
As a student, Albom developed a very unique relationship with his professor: not only did he enroll in most of his classes, they also met regularly outside of class to discuss non-curricular matters. Morrie and Mitch had a very special relationship – Mitch even called Morrie “coach.”
The book shifts from the present day to Mitch’s and Morrie’s days at Brandeis. From this, the reader is able to comprehend more deeply the rare student-teacher relationship they shared. As a graduation gift, Mitch gives Morrie a briefcase, engraved with his initials.
Since his graduatioMitch pushed the request aside, assuring his uncle that he still had all the time in the world. However, when his uncle finally did pass away, Mitch’s outlook on life dramatically changed. He began to value the precious and finite nature of life, prompting him to earn his master’s degree in journalism, leading him to his current job at the Detroit Free Press. A very successful journalist, Mitch’s life is extremely career-oriented. He meets his eventual wife, Janine, with whom he is not able to spend as much time with as he would have liked due to his professional duties. He discards all mail from Brandeis, and is unaware of Morrie’s illness until he sees him on Nightline.
Mitch is long since removed from the optimistic, idealist college student he once was. It seems as if he misses his hopeful younger self, becoming even more distant from his youth with the death of his uncle. His uncle’s death prompts him to live each day to the fullest, although he later discovers that his perception of “full” is not ideal. In essence, the death of his uncle has made Mitch realize how not to live his life, but unfortunately this does not give him any counsel on how to live his life. For this, he turns to Morrie.
We later see that Mitch’s relationship with his dying uncle contrasts greatly with his relationship with Morrie. While he was in denial about his uncle’s illness, Mitch is more accepting of Morrie’s prognosis because of Morrie’s serene acceptance.
As Mitch pulls up to Morrie’s house to visit the man he hasn’t seen in 16 years, he is on the phone with his producer. When he arrives, Morrie is waiting for him in his wheelchair on the front lawn, eagerly waving at Mitch. Mitch, in a moment he would later regret, pretends not to see his old professor in order to finish his conversation. As Morrie emphatically embraces Mitch, Mitch can’t help but feel as if the student Morrie knew in college is long gone. As they go inside, Morrie tells Mitch what it feels like to be dying – this “lesson” serves as the springboard to what will eventually become an entire curriculum.
Mitch’s reunion with Morrie is analogous to their initial meeting. As a college freshman, Mitch recounts his attempted “tough guy” façade, ironically drawing him to Morrie’s “softness.” It was this tenderness Morrie exhibited that reshaped Mitch’s outlook on life. Now, 20 years later, he is again similarly affected by Morrie. Conversely, Mitch also possesses a certain liveliness that Morrie can live vicariously through.
Mitch sits down with Morrie to discuss life for the first time since his college days. Morrie has become quite popular since his appearance on Nightline, many people want to call and visit for advice. Morrie attributes this need to societal flaws – they seek from Morrie the tenderness and comfort society can sometimes deny. Morrie convinces Mitch that his death is imminent with a breathing exercise that demonstrates how weak his lungs have become; his lungs will ultimately be what kills him. However, despite his situation, Morrie considers himself to be fortunate, as he is able to make peace with everyone in his life before he dies, an opportunity few people are lucky enough to have.
It is clear that Morrie’s most pressing concern with Mitch is his envelopment into the societal norms Morrie vehemently rejects. Morrie told Mitch in college of life’s “tension of opposites:” opposing forces in life constantly pull us back and forth, but, inevitably, love always wins. This is the underlying theme of the culture Morrie created for himself and lives by, something he tries to instill in Mitch.
After his initial meeting with Morrie, Mitch heads to London to cover the Wimbledon tennis tournament. He resists the British tabloids he usually reads, remembering Morrie’s commentary on the foolishness of idolizing celebrities. Later, he is trampled by a swarm of reporters chasing after Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields, making him further reflect on his situation.
Upon his return to Detroit, Mitch learns that the writer’s union has gone on strike. Baffled by the notion that the world could survive without his column, he becomes saddened by the realization and his inactivity. He calls Morrie to schedule a meeting for the following Tuesday, and their report has returned to that of their college days.
Mitch’s experience in London provides a very literal example of “chasing the wrong things.” Noting this, we see that his first meeting with Morrie has already begun to affect the way he goes through life, as he begins making attempts to form a culture more conducive to his own happiness.
The First Tuesday: We Talk About the World
Mitch and Morrie discuss the various goings-on throughout the world, specifically the continuous tragedies that permeate headlines worldwide. Strangely, Morrie’s state makes him more compassionate and sympathetic about the hardship others experience elsewhere in the world as opposed to focusing on his own misfortune – he says he is “drawn to them.” With this, he transitions into their first lesson – the importance of love. We need to learn how to both give love out and take love in. Many fear accepting love, as we fear it will make us too soft. However, we must all learn to embrace love, as ultimately it is the most important thing in life. He sums this up by quoting the ancient philosopher Levine: “love is the only rational act.”
With Morrie’s first lesson, he returns to something he had touched on with Mitch back in college. For the first fifteen minutes of his lecture, Morrie conducted the class in complete silence. He only broke the silence to ask how everyone was feeling, demonstrating the effect of silence on human relationships. Mitch was a very introverted student, and as such did not partake in the class discussion. Reminiscent of his former self, Morrie has always tried to convince Mitch to be more expressive, especially emotionally, and continues his efforts with his lesson on love.
The Second Tuesday: We Talk About Feeling Sorry for Yourself
As the writer’s strike continues, Mitch spends more time with Morrie. This time, however, he does not bring a cell phone.
Mitch asks Morrie if he ever suffers from self-pity. He does, but only in the mornings. After he occasionally “gives himself a good cry,” he stops mourning and begins to focus on all the good things in his life – visitors, stories, and especially Mitch. He points out that his illness has given him ample time to say good bye. Therefore, in Morrie’s eyes, he is “lucky.”
Parallels between their current and past relationship further unfold as Mitch recounts a “touchy-feely” class he took at Brandeis. The “Group Process” class would make students cry on a daily basis, with one specific lesson examining trust. The exercise was for a student to fall backwards and rely on another student to catch them. No student had enough trust in another to perform such an act, until one girl performed it without even a flinch. Morrie noted the discrepancy between this girl and the rest of the class: she performed the exercise with her eyes closed. This symbolizes the idea that in order to develop the deepest relationships we must sometimes ignore our contemplative side and simply develop a blind trust.
The Third Tuesday: We Talk About Regrets
Mitch brings a tape recorder to their visits to preserve Morrie’s lessons after he has died, an idea Morrie supports. Mitch introduces this week’s topic by asking Morrie if there was anything in his life that he regretted. Morrie explains that society does not make us focus on such things until we are about to die: people are so heavily involved in the mundane clutter of their daily routines that they never take the time to step back and examine whether what we are doing makes us truly happy or if there are other more meaningful endeavors we should instead pursue. After their discussion, Mitch is finally able to get past his denial of Morrie’s eventual death. Morrie reveals that he feels the “seeds of death” inside of him. After this lesson, Mitch makes a full list of topics to go over with Morrie in the future.
Morrie had taught this lesson before, when he suggested that Mitch write a seniors thesis. In the hustle and bustle of graduating college, the idea of extending his efforts to such a degree most likely never dawned on Mitch. Morrie, however, was able to recognize Mitch’s ability and passions, convincing him to do something he would later appreciate.
The Audiovisual: Part Two
Due to Morrie’s instant popularity, Nightline decided to run a second interview with Ted Koppel. Morrie explains that, although on the surface he may appear to be doing fine, only he can fully understand the deterioration occurring inside his body. He also brings up the friend who sent Morrie’s work in to ABC initially, Maurie Stein, and his being deaf. Morrie, on the other hand, will soon be unable to speak. However, he explains that after 35 years, not even this could prevent them from communicating, something they can accomplish simply by holding hands. He also openly cries when discussing his mother’s death over 70 years ago.
It is very appropriate that Morrie discusses the idea of communication with a loved one through simply holding hands. He is very physically affectionate, perhaps partially due to his lack of physical affection as a child, and as his condition worsens he becomes more “touchy-feely,” as Mitch would say. However, the more Morrie hugs, holds hands, and even kisses Mitch, the more comfortable Mitch becomes with physical affection.
We learn some details of Morrie’s youth, growing up on the lower east side of Manhattan in the 1920’s. When a telegram came informing Morrie’s family of his mother’s death, he was the one who had to read it, being the only one in his family who could read English. With their mother’s death and the ensuing poverty, Morrie and his brother David were sent to work at a hotel. One morning, after playing in the rain the previous night, David woke up paralyzed – he had polio. Morrie believed their night in the rain caused it; he felt responsible for his brother’s suffering and prayed regularly at the synagogue for his mother and brother because of this guilt.
His father remarried a woman named Eva who gave Morrie and David the affection they lacked from their father. Unfortunately for Morrie, his father burdened him with a cumbersome task: he was asked to lie to his brother, telling him that Eva was his actual birthmother. Morrie kept the telegram of his mother’s death tucked safely away underneath his pillow as proof that she did, in fact, exist.
The Fourth Tuesday: We Talk About Death
Morrie shares with Mitch his ideas about death, and consequently what is important in life. People very seldom live as if they believe they will die – if they did, their priorities would be completely different, including Mitch, who Morrie says would be “less ambitious.” Mitch brings up the O.J. Simpson murder trial, ultimately meaningless although covered by news agencies nationwide; this provides a stark contrast to the more important lessons he is learning from Morrie.
Mitch asks Morrie how one can prepare to die. Morrie, a self-proclaimed “religious mutt,” shares a Buddhist philosophy where every day one must acknowledge the prospect of this being their last day on earth. In a more literal sense, one can only know how to live if they know how to die.
Morrie continues to receive letters from those seeking his advice and wisdom after watching Nightline. He reads and responds to them with his sons, who he is glad to have around.
When Morrie says that Mitch would be “less ambitious” if he appreciated the finality of death, he is implying something much deeper. He is addressing the imbalance in Mitch’s life between work and loving relationships. He goes on to say: “We are too involved in material things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.”
The Fifth Tuesday: We Talk About Family
On the long list of important things in life, family is close to the top. Family provides you with a connection deeper and longer lasting than any friendship. Morrie points out that if he did not have family, if he were alone, his decline would be much more difficult. Not only is family necessary because of the love they provide, but equally important is their “spiritual security.”
Mitch contemplates what life would be like if he never had children. Morrie says that he will never outright tell someone whether or not to have children, but simply explains that doing so provides parents with the experience of having “complete responsibility for another human being,” and that the bond one shares with a child is unlike any other.
Here, we learn about Mitch’s family, specifically his younger brother, Peter. Growing up, his brother was the funny and outgoing one, basking in the attention of the rest of his family. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer later in life and moved to Europe, isolating himself from his family and their concerns. Mitch is clearly saddened by their distance, as seen by his reluctance to bring up the topic with Morrie.
The Sixth Tuesday: We Talk About Emotions
Morrie believes allowing ourselves to become fully immersed in our emotions makes us better and able to detach ourselves from the experience. We should embrace our emotions completely, and only then can we recognize them, take a step back, and fully appreciate them.
This attitude is especially relevant for someone in Morrie’s condition; he would like to die peacefully, i.e. not in one of the uncontrollably violent coughing fits he experiences regularly at this stage in his disease. Whenever he succumbs to an aforementioned coughing attack, he detaches from the experience and reminds himself that this may be his ultimate demise.
If reincarnated, Morrie would like to come back as a gazelle. At first this seems like a very obscure choice, but upon further examination we see it as a reflection of Morrie’s character. He loved the freedom and gracefulness of dancing, loves to look out his window and take in the view of the great outdoors. Essentially, he suffers from having a lively spirit inside a broken body.
The Professor, Part Two
In the early 1950s after earning his Ph. D, Morrie conducted research at a mental hospital, something considered to be groundbreaking at the time. Unlike other workers at the hospital, the patients began to trust and even befriend Morrie. He noted that many of the patients came from wealthy families, further cementing the idea that money does not equal happiness.
During the Vietnam War, Morrie, along with other members of the sociology department at Brandeis, took a very liberal stance, often protesting themselves and even giving A’s to students who are in danger of being drafted. When a group of black students took over the chemistry building on campus and deemed it “Malcolm X University,” it was Morrie who the students chose to speak to and who eventually resolved the situation.
These experiences demonstrate how Morrie’s open-mindedness and compassion for the marginalized were ahead of his time. He communicated and even befriended mental patients while others discarded them, and was able to serve as a peacekeeper between radical protesters and university administration. This is an example of how Morrie has formed his own culture throughout his life, independent of society’s expectations.
The Seventh Tuesday: We Talk About the Fear of Aging
Although at first Morrie feared his own deterioration and the prospect of increased dependence on others, by the time he is completely dependent he actually begins to enjoy himself. He compares his current state to that of a child, who receives his mother’s unconditional love. He says that deep down we all know how to be a child – the only issue is whether or not we remember how to enjoy it.
At the same time, Morrie is befuddled by society’s obsession over youth. Our culture is so fixated on youth and beauty that it makes youth a confusing and dangerous place. Morrie recounts various young college students coming to him for advice, and recognizes the difficulty and confusion that comes at that age. Instead of dwelling on the physical deterioration that comes with age, Morrie embraces the increased wisdom gained with experience. Wishing to be younger is just a result of having lived an unsatisfying life. He follows this up by explaining that it is foolish for the elderly to envy the young, because they have already experienced youth. This is very easy for Morrie to say, someone who is quite satisfied with his accomplishments in life thus far.
Morrie describes an Arctic tribe who believes in a type of reincarnation. He ties this into his own beliefs, specifically that the soul continues to live on after death. This is quite appropriate in context, as Mitch is recording Morrie’s last words, perhaps his most important words, to live on after Morrie has died.
The Eighth Tuesday: We Talk About Money
At the start of their eighth meeting, Mitch shows Morrie a quote from Ted Turner in the newspaper: “I don’t want my tombstone to read ‘I never owned a network.’” This prompts Morrie to lament over society’s materialistic obsessions. He discusses the way people become brainwashed by the repetition of the idea that “more is good.” We substitute material possessions for more important things, such as love or tenderness. However, they do not bring satisfaction. Ironically, although we all think we will be satisfied by acquiring more, the way to truly satisfy ourselves is to give out what we have: not only money, but time, love, and companionship as well. Here, Mitch finally begins to realize how “wealthy” Morrie truly is.
Society’s obsession with money encapsulates Morrie’s grievances about modern culture. This obsession is the derivation of countless problems he has brought up before, especially our inability to love. Morrie, however, realizes that the only way to attain true happiness is to give, not to receive. As he says, “Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.”
Ted Turner’s quote serves as a direct contrast to Morrie’s life. Turner’s main focus is on people remembering his professional achievements after death, while Morrie is concerned solely with his personal relationships with others. This quote also serves as a microcosm of the immorality and foolishness omnipresent in the media, a theme perpetuated continuously throughout the book
The Ninth Tuesday: We Talk About How Love Goes On
The union strike continues as America is still obsessed with the O.J. Simpson trial. Mitch tries again to contact his brother, but continues to receive the same brief message from Peter explaining that everything is okay and he does not want to discuss his cancer.
As Morrie’s condition worsens, Mitch asks him about his fear of being forgotten after his death. He explains that he will not, due to all the lives he has touched. After all, “love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.” He explains that although physical death is permanent, memories live on forever, which are much more important.
Nightline is interested in a third interview with Morrie, but wants to wait until he is slightly more decrepit. This act could be considered quite heartless by someone who Morrie considers a friend. Again, this demonstrates the media’s callous nature.
The Tenth Tuesday: We Talk About Marriage
Morrie, always breathing with the support of an oxygen tank, is unable to eat solid food as the disease spreads to his lungs. Morrie’s inability to eat solid food is emblematic of his decline. Mitch fondly recalls Morrie’s love of food, and as he can no longer enjoy that love Mitch feels helpless, as he did with his uncle. To substitute for his bringing him food, Mitch begins to physically help Morrie much more than he used to. But to Morrie, Mitch’s simple presence is more than enough. By recording his final thoughts, Mitch is enabling Morrie to live forever.
For the first time, Mitch brings his wife Janine to visit Morrie. A singer, Janine is usually quite reserved about performing in front of others. However, shockingly to Mitch, she does not think twice before serenading Morrie, with “The Very Thought of You.” prompting him to cry out of appreciation.
Moved by the song, Morrie shares the immense importance for the current generation to find a loved one, as society does not provide any love of its own. However, this generation is usually either too selfish to engage in a loving, committed relationship or tends to rush into marriage, only to have it end shortly thereafter. He goes on to explain how to maintain a successful marriage. There aren’t any real secrets: one must simply respect his or her spouse, learn to compromise, maintain an open relationship, commit to a common set of values, and respect the importance of the idea of marriage. Marriage is a very important life experience, something that everyone should experience.
Morrie is a forgiving man
The Eleventh Tuesday: We Talk About Culture
Morrie’s disease continues to spread throughout his body, and his physical therapist must routinely beat his back in order to free the poison from his lungs. Mitch takes on this responsibility, making him feel closer to Morrie. He gets more and more comfortable helping Morrie with the most intimate details of his life, and the two now hold hands during their lecture.
Morrie feels that the problems in society are derived from the fact that people are only mean when they are threatened. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what our culture does: people are inherently threatened by the idea that they may lose what they have, e.g. a job, and therefore people begin to only look after themselves.
As an alternative, Morrie proposes that we should develop our own sub-culture. We should avoid the vanities of obsessing over looks and wealth, but instead create our own set of priorities. In his eyes, most of the problems in the world are due to short-sightedness: instead of trying to figure out what we can become, we obsess over instant gratification and overlook the important things in life. This shortsightedness also prevents us from realizing that although we may appear physically and superficially different, we are much more similar than we realize. He points out that everybody appreciates that we are physically dependent at the beginning and end of life, relying on others to survive. But what most fail to realize is that in between, we need others to survive as well.
The shortsightedness Morrie brings up is seen in the O.J. Simpson trial. He points out that superficialities drive us apart, such as race. As O.J. is found not guilty, Mitch notices that blacks celebrate while whites feel defeated.
The Audiovisual, Part Three
Ted Koppel and the Nightline crew come to Morrie for one final interview, which feels more like a farewell. In Morrie’s continually worsened condition he is unsure of his ability to give the interview, but ultimately he is able to overcome his crippled state. In the interview, Morrie shares his increasing detachment to the outside world. He admires the courage of other ALS victims, specifically Stephen Hawking, although concedes that he would rather die than live in a similar state. He again enlightens the world on the value of love, saying that although the disease may destroy his body it will never affect his spirit. At this, Ted Koppel is moved to tears. For the first time, Morrie reveals that he talks to God.
On Koppel’s first visit, Morrie told him that he came off as a narcissist. By the third interview, Koppel kisses Morrie in greeting and is deeply moved by his words. Morrie has been able to break through to Koppel, who epitomizes the modern media, revealing a sensitive side that is commonly looked down on by society.
The Twelfth Tuesday: We Talk About Forgiveness
In order to convey his feelings about forgiveness, Morrie shares with Mitch a parable from his own life. One of his oldest friends, Norman, had moved away to Chicago. Shortly thereafter, Morrie’s wife, Charlotte, had a serious operation. Although Norman and his wife knew of the operation, they never called Morrie or Charlotte to check up on her. So, Morrie dropped the relationship. Soon after, Norman died. Morrie never forgave himself for his failure to reconcile with an old friend.
Although we must learn to forgive others, it is even more important to learn to forgive ourselves. We cannot live in the past, for it will consume us. We cannot live in regret. Feeling remorseful about the past does not do us any good. We must make peace with ourselves and everyone around us.
It is clear that Morrie’s end is not far away. He is letting go of the outside world. He tells Mitch that he would like to die peacefully. By detaching himself from life, he is abiding by the Buddhist teachings he told Mitch of earlier. Just as the elderly should not envy youth, which they have already experienced, the dying should not envy the living, which is merely a reflection of a life not lived to the fullest.
The Thirteenth Tuesday: We Talk About the Perfect Day
Morrie decides that he wants to be cremated after his death. Maintaining his sense of harmony and acceptance of death and jovial nature, he politely asks the rabbi not to “overcook” him. Morrie cannot breathe without an oxygen tube, something that frustrates Mitch. Morrie tells Mitch of his near death experience the previous night. He succumbed to his most violent coughing fit to date, and as he gasped for air felt completely at peace with death. Morrie is ready to die.
As Morrie gets closer and closer to death, Mitch asks what his perfect day would be. His response is quite simple – he would wake up, make himself breakfast, exercise, spend time with friends, eat dinner, and dance. Mitch says that he was actually slightly disappointed by the simplicity of Morrie’s imagination, but then realizes that he is conveying how straight the path is to true happiness.
Once more, they discuss Mitch’s brother, Peter. Mitch is still unable to connect with his brother. Morrie, however, is confident that they will one day be together again.
Morrie shares an anecdote with Mitch. A wave is floating through the ocean and, upon noticing all the waves before him crash into the shore, becomes worried about his prospect of becoming nothing when he hits the shore. However, a wave behind him explains: “No, you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.”
Mitch’s frustration towards the oxygen tank indicates that he is still fearful of Morrie’s impending death. Mitch admits that he’s afraid he will be lost without his professor’s guidance. Although he has learned so much already, he still worries about what he will become after Morrie is gone.
Morrie’s idea of the perfect day exemplifies his simplistic, loving nature. While most of us suffer from delusions of grandeur, Morrie appreciates all aspects of life and finds as much love and happiness from his humble existence as possible. Most fail to realize the perfect beauty of our relationship with those around us, yearning for something more “significant.” However, Morrie is one of the few people in the world who understands what is truly important in life.
Morrie’s story of the frightened wave instills the reader with a rational acceptance of death. While most of us view death as the ultimate end, and therefore fear the inevitable, by viewing individuals as part of a whole we can make peace with the infinite nature of life. Evaluating life based on “accomplishments” will never bring satisfaction or peace, as we are geared to live in a society where everything is never enough. If we instead examine the significance of our relationships with others – cherished friendships, the love we give out and take in, reaching out to others – we can feel at peace with the finality of death, for these notions never truly perish.
The Fourteenth Tuesday: We Say Goodbye
The final time Mitch meets with Morrie, he is barely able to speak. He is only able to convey simple phrases, such as “love you.” But, it is enough to make Mitch cry, something Morrie had been trying to get him to do since they first met.
Morrie’s immediate family tends to him in bed during his final days on earth. The minute they leave him unattended, he slips away. Mitch thought that Morrie wanted it that way: to die alone, dignified, without scarring any family members the way he was as a child. Appropriately, the funeral was on a Tuesday. Mitch continued to visit and talk to Morrie even after his death, something he finds much easier than he had expected. “You talk, I’ll listen,” Morrie had said.
Mitch looks back on the man he was before his final course with his old professor. He has undergone many changes, and will continue to develop into a more loving person even after Morrie’s death. He contacts his brother, explaining that although he respects his distance he still wants to have a relationship with him and that he loves him. Their relationship is restored, just as Morrie had said it would.
Tuesdays With Morrie was Mitch’s and Morrie’s “final thesis,” something that brought them closer together and delighted Morrie. The money the book earned enabled them to pay Morrie’s hospital bills. He recalls finding an old paper he wrote for Morrie’s class, where he had written “Dear Coach…” and Morrie had responded “Dear Player….” Every time he sees this, Mitch misses Morrie even more. Albom implores us to seek out a true teacher – someone who is able to provide wisdom and aid in your development into the best person you can be. For Albom, this teacher was Morrie. And their final class was the most important of all.
Morrie stresses the importance of giving back. He does not simply say we must learn to love, but stresses that we must learn to both give out love and learn to take it in. Furthermore, he explains that obtaining material wealth will never bring true happiness. In fact, the only way to be truly happy is by giving what we have – not only tangibles such as money for charity – but also our emotions, time, and efforts. These intangibles are priceless, the embodiment of what he considers a meaningful existence.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is the degeneration of motor neurons throughout the body. As the neurons degenerate, the muscles weaken and the patient experiences atrophy, sometimes leading to the loss of all motor functions, excluding the eyes. Usually, cognitive activity remains functional.
The initial symptoms for ALS are usually muscle weakness leading to twitching, cramping, and stiffness. Later on the patient experiences slurred speech and difficulty swallowing. Eventually the rib cage weakens, which affects breathing. Finally, most patients die of respiratory failure or pneumonia, not ALS itself.
Today, there is no definitive cure for ALS, although it is known to be caused by a number of internal and external factors, including a virus, exposure to certain metals, DNA defects, and enzyme and immune system dysfunction.
Death: Struggle and Acceptance
Morrie struggles with his disease, ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), while he anticipates his impending death.Soon Morrie accepts his approaching death when he shares a Buddhist philosophy where every day one must acknowledge the prospect of this being their last day on earth. In a more literal sense, one can only know how to live if they know how to die.
Love: Family, Friends, and Community
Morrie shares that love is the most important thing we do. As society convolutes priorities, most of us bustle around, focusing on trivial accomplishments and material wealth, ignoring the most precious aspects of life as we pass it by. This is no way to find true happiness. Individuals must reject popular culture to build their own values in order to find happiness. Morrie’s personal culture revolved around his love for friends, family, and the community around him. Although Morrie would not suggest that other’s blindly accept his culture, he does exemplify how one should prioritize in life. Regardless of the culture we all choose to accept, we cannot survive without love.
Modern culture, through the media, instills individuals with a warped view of what is important. Almost every time Mitch visits, he notices countless disturbing headlines in every newspaper. Furthermore, the entire nation is abuzz about the O.J. Simpson trial, epitomizing the obsession over the trivial lives of celebrities.
Throughout his life, Morrie is able to form his own set of values rather than conform to the values of popular culture. He implores others to do the same. Ironically, Morrie is able to share with the world the deep emotional ideals by which he lives his life through the superficiality of the modern media. Only someone like Morrie, with the divine ability to give out love, understanding, acceptance, and happiness, could use something as callous as network television to deliver his most tender thoughts.
In 1999, Tuesdays with Morrie was made into a film starring Hank Azaria as Mitch Albom and Jack Lemmon as Morrie. Directed by Mick Jackson, the film won four Emmy awards, a Golden Globe award, and a Screen Actors Guild award, among others. Ironically, this was Lemmon’s last credited role before he died.
- “He was weary all the time. He had trouble sleeping. He dreamt he was dying.”
- “All right, I’ll be your coach. And you can be my player. You can play all the lovely parts of life that I’m too old for now.”
- “He rocked against me, not letting go, his hands reaching up for my elbows as I bent over him. I was surprised at such affection… I had forgotten how close we once were.”
- "Once you know how to die, you know how to live."
- "So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half asleep, even when they are 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."
- "Love each other or perish."
- "The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in..."
- "As far as men go, it is not what they are that interests me, but what they can become. "
- "You're not a wave, you're part of the ocean"
- "You talk, I'll listen"
- "Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone."
- "Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness."
- "You see, you closed your eyes. That was the difference. Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are 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."
- "I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both."
- "Dying is one thing to be sad about, living unhappily is another thing."
- "I need to respect my children worlds, or else this disease will have ruined the three of us instead of one."
- "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."
- "Death takes away life, not relationships."
1) Specifically, how do some of Mitch’s experiences with Morrie in college tie in to their current relationship?
2) How has Mitch changed since he first began visiting with Morrie?
3) What role does the hibiscus plant play throughout the novel?
4) Explain how Morrie’s growing dependence on others ties in to the idea of life’s cycles and in turn the idea of reincarnation.
5) How do Morrie’s religious philosophies allow him to cope with death?
6) Explain how Morrie’s relationship with Ted Koppel changes from the first to final interview.
7) How do Morrie’s experiences as a child shape him as an adult?