Tuesdays with Morrie

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“Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom
(First publication: 1997 / This edition: Anchor Books 2006)
Taken during an early brunch at Dean & Deluca on Saturday with Mom

Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently. To know you’re going to die, and to be prepared for it at any time. That’s better. That way you can actually be more involved in your life while you’re living. (pg.81)

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for a few months now. I forgot what made me want to get it—this is my first book by Mitch Albom. I didn’t even know what it was about, who “Morrie” was, whether this book was non-fiction or fiction, or what genre it is. I think I had confused it with another book that my friend recommended.

Just randomly decided to pick it off the shelf and read it. About time. It’s an easy read as the writing is simple, but the content is quite heavy.

Actually, let’s start with what struck me the hardest—it’s actually towards the end of the book. During my senior year of high school (2009), I lost a person very, very close to me. I received a lot of messages via calls, texts, Facebook messages, etc, of support and condolences. One person that I didn’t really know personally at that time wrote to me:

Death ends a life, not a relationship.

That line made me really sit and reflect about my grief and my loss. Since then, as time passes and heals, I forgot about that line.

And then I saw it in this book. The passage before that line is this:

As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on—in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here. (pg.174)

Just made me think and reminisce.

So yes, as you can probably guess by now, this book is about a life and a death—of Morrie, specifically. Morrie was Mitch’s professor in college and in life. Morrie got ALS, which slowly and painfully led him to his death. Despite the “tragedy” and the pains, he considered himself “lucky” because he was given enough time to spend time and reconnect with people he loved and to say goodbye. Mitch dedicated his Tuesdays to coming to spend time with his professor, and reconnecting and learning from him.

“It’s only horrible if you see it that way. It’s horrible to watch my body slowly wilt away to nothing. But it’s also wonderful because of all the time I get to say good-bye.” He smiled. “Not everyone is so lucky.” (pg.57)

Morrie brings up a lot of issues that have bothered me—me being so frustrated with existential crises for some reason at 24. The issue that penetrated me the most is about “fear of death”—fear of leaving, fear of getting old, fear of running out of time. Morrie says things similar to what my mom and my elders tell me: that I need to just relax and that “aging” is inevitable and that I just need to enjoy the ride and “life is life”. Morrie adds more to those things and adds even more perspectives. For example:

“[…] why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.” You never hear people say, “I wish I were sixty-five.”
[…] 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. You can’t wait until sixty-five.
Listen. You should know something. All young people should know something. If you’re always battling against getting older, you’re always going to be unhappy, because it will happen anyhow.” (pg.118-119)

I admire him so much because he seemed to take death on so bravely and so contentedly. Of course he was sad about some things, but overall, he felt fortunate to have “so much” at that point in his life—and none of it materialistic things. He has so much love for people and people have so much love for him. He teaches Mitch to really get in touch with his emotions and get in touch with his relationships and give his all into love.

I don’t know, it’s hard to explain—I kind of have mixed feelings about it all. Like I’ve been rambling on about, I think he’s very admirable and I aspire to be like him in that aspect—where people should give more importance to “love” and “compassion” and “relationships”, and make those the most integral, valuable parts of their lives. That way, life is “fulfilled” and death isn’t so scary—and you go away at peace.

However, I can’t really agree with his point of view about “money” and how very UNimportant it is. I agree with him that it’s not everything, but I can’t agree with him that it’s nothing. I’m not talking about how I want a million dollars for ten sports cars and have my own private jets or whatever. That’s just unreasonable and excessive. I agree with him that materialistic things don’t mean everything. But I don’t agree that it won’t bring any happiness at all. I want to be able to provide for people I love—for my family. I want to give them everything—to spoil them and to give them the best of everything. If I have a daughter, I want her to go to the best school. If I have a son, I want to make sure I drive him around in the safest car I can afford. If I have a husband, I want to cook him food with the highest quality ingredients. I want to give my mom the most comfortable home. I want to take them traveling. I want to give them the best health insurance. How can I do all of those if I just toss away my ambition and my “hunger” now? It’s not greed—I would say it’s a form of “love” too. If I did not have this ambition, then I think that would make me pretty selfish.

And he talks about how people are confused about what the meaning of life is—that all this ambition and “career” and power are getting in the way. But what if your career and your ambition are actually…your passion? I CANNOT imagine myself giving up my “ambition” and “drive”—I would be so depressed.

While I understand where he’s trying to go with his messages (about money/work/ambition), I just feel like it might not apply to everyone and it’s too “judgey” to say that people who are like that aren’t “making the best of their lives”.

Rant, rant, rant.

Maybe I am just not at the right “age” for it—I’m still in that zone where I want to work, I crave success, I am passionate about ambition. But I do have a lot of love and a lot of compassion, too. Maybe when I’m older, I might feel different if I re-read this.

Would I recommend this book?…. Hmm. Yes. I think it raises awareness and understanding about ALS. The first time it really caught my attention was about a year ago when my Facebook newsfeed was literally covered with people’s videos of people pouring buckets of ice water over themselves. (How that is ALS-related, I still have yet to find out.) But this book, you actually get walked through the different stages and the different changes from beginning until the end.

And Morrie is really quite a character. I agree with him on everything else—the “money and ambition” issue is the only thing that we maybe don’t see eye to eye, but everything else—he is very inspiring.

The book is a tad on the “cheesy” or “cliché-y” side—I guess it’s kind of like a self-helf or a book for reflection. I’d recommend to go with these two books first before reading this one: Matt Haig’s “Reasons to Stay Alive” (one of my most favorite books ever) and Jean-Dominique Bauby’s “The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly”.

…..

Here are some of my favorite lines from the book.

“Ted,” he said,”when all this started, I asked myself, ‘Am I going to withdraw from the world, like most people do, or am I going to live?’ I decided I’m going to live—or at least try to live—the way I want, with dignity, with courage, with humor, with composure.
“There are some mornings when I cry and cry and mourn for myself. Some mornings, I’m so angry and bitter. But it doesn’t last too long. Then I get up and say, ‘I want to live…’ (pg.21)

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. (pg.43)

And I suppose tapes, like photographs and videos, are a desperate attempt to steal something from death’s suitcase. (pg.63)

Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live. (pg.82)

But detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it.
Take any emotion—love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going through, fear and pain from a deadly illness. 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.” (pg.103-104)

I thought about how often this was needed in everyday life. How we feel lonely, sometimes to the point of tears, but we don’t let those tears come because we are not supposed to cry. Or how we feel a surge of love for a partner but we don’t say anything because we’re frozen with the fear of what those words might do to the relationship. […] Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help. If you let the fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, “All right, it’s just fear, I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is.”
Same for loneliness: you let go, let the tears flow, feel the completely—but eventually be able to say, “All right, that was my moment with loneliness. I’m not afraid of feeling lonely, but now I’m going to put that loneliness aside and know that there are other emotions in the world, and I’m going to experience them as well.” (pg.105)

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