“When you learn how to die, you learn how to live” – Morrie Schwartz.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the No.1 International Best Seller book – Tuesdays with MORRIE. A old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson by author Mitch Albom (Doubleday,1997).
I first found this book in May 2004 (13 Years ago), after watching a re-run of the Queen of American Daytime Television, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah was having one of her famous “book Club” episodes when I see her interview the author Mitch Albom live on her set.
I was immediately transfixed on this man’s heart-warming story of the last year of his old professor’s life. At a time in my life, when I was formally diagnosed by my doctor that I was suffering from Depression. Thirteen years ago, my life came crashing down around me and I became a prisoner of my own demons and life was very harsh, difficult and sinister. However, as Mitch Albom continued to tell Oprah about his wonderful book, I found that my problems had melt away and become somewhat distant for all a few minutes. Let me tell you why……
Mitch Albom wrote this book as a loving tribute to his old Professor Morrie Schwartz.
Morrie Schwartz used to say that he wanted to be remembered as “a teacher to the last”. Well, he got his wish. Four years after he succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease, Morrie is teaching more students than ever – millions all over the world. And his class is still growing, even 20 years after his death.
For nearly 30 years, Morrie thought sociology to students at Brandeis University, Massachusetts. But in the last year of his life, he thought anyone and everyone – – family, friends, colleagues, journalists – something even more profound: How to live a meaningful life, and how to die with no regrets. He is best known as the Sage in this book “Tuesday’s with MORRIE. With over 2.8 million copies in print, the book has remained on the “New York Times” best-seller list for two years running. It has been translated in to 22 languages.
Why the enormous interest in what a retired college professor had to say? The answer is simple: Morrie offered candid, heartfelt insight into many of the philosophical questions that so many of us ask ourselves (or should be asking ourselves) about life, work, community, relationships, aging and death. And he offered all this insight from a unique perspective. After being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in the summer of 1994, he decided to make the act of dying another educational opportunity: The living would learn from his experience with death. “when you learn how to die,” Morrie said, “you learn how to live”.
So, he taught Albom, who had lost touch with him after graduating from college. Albom has since became a sports writer for the Detroit – free press. Morrie also taught Ted Koppel, during three touching “Nightline” specials (an American ABC Television Network Show). In the process, Morrie became a mentor to millions of readers and viewers, regardless of age, wealth or occupation. But his lessons hold special power for business people, who are consumed by the opportunities of the new world of work – yet often unaware of the costs associated with their achievements.
Slow down long enough to take stock, Morrie advised Albom during the first weekly visits which took place on Tuesday’s. “Have you found someone to share your heart with? Are you giving to your community? Are you at peace with yourself? The biggest mistake most of us make, Morrie said, is being short-sighted. “One hundred years from now no one who is here now will still be alive,” he wrote. “when you look back at it that way, you can see how absurd it is that we individualize ourselves with our fences and hoarded possessions.”
It is easy to understand why people lose perspective. The pressure to perform is overwhelming, Morrie said. It pushes people to strive for status, power, and money – regardless of the sacrifice. It pushes them to go it alone. “we have a sense that we should be like the mythical cowboy able to take on and conquer anything and live in the world without the need for other people,” he wrote. Morrie believed that the opposite is true: that a community is far more powerful than an individual and that making an impact on that community is far more fulfilling than focusing only on individual goals.
If we’re all so smart, then why aren’t more of us happy? That was a question that Morrie was happy to wrestle with. Happiness, he said comes from figuring out what gives our life purpose and then devoting yourself with passion to that purpose. For Morrie, that defining passion was teaching. Happiness comes from opening to people, emotions, and experiences. For Morrie, the key experience was dancing, always dancing. But happiness also comes from knowing and accepting your limitations and imperfections. For Morrie, the key limitation was his body, which grew weaker as ALS limited his ability to walk, to feed himself, to breathe freely.
Laugh at yourself, Morrie urged. Forgive yourself for not doing the things that you should have done. He didn’t pine for lost youth: “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”.
Much of his advice may seem like common sense. Yet people often fail to act on such common sense, Morrie said, because they’re either sleep walking or sprinting their way through life. Dying provides the kind of clarity that people need earlier in their life but usually lack, Morrie said. Why not practice that greater awareness in your daily life now? “we’re involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going,” he wrote. “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…. Dying is only one thing to be sad over…. Living unhappily is something else.”
Is this message sappy? Sure. That was Morrie. Is it simplistic? Well, Morrie, didn’t think that the best answers were necessarily the most complicated answers. Sometimes, the simplest advice is also the truest advice, and, in that spirit, Morrie liked to quote this line from W.H. Auden: “Love each other or perish.”
“Everything that gets born dies,” Morrie wrote. “The best way to deal with that is to live in a fully conscious, compassionate, loving way…. Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to recognize that this is the only way to live.”
The only way to live. Take it from Morrie a teacher to the last.
(Tuesday’s with Morrie has since been made into a film)
-Krystal Long Author 6th August 2017©