Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.
Tuesdays with Morrie is a memoir by American author Mitch Albom about a series of visits Mitch made to his former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz, as Schwartz gradually dies of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The book recounts the fourteen visits Mitch made, their conversations, Morrie’s lectures, and his life experiences. The book is a short philosophical book about accepting death and, in the process learning to live. It is a story about an old man who is dying and a young man who is lost, the old man (his professor) teaches him some life lessons on his dying days about what is really important in life.
The book was adapted into a 1999 television film, directed by Mick Jackson and starring Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon.
“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
Favourite Takeaways – Tuesdays with Morrie:
For all that was happening to him, his voice was strong and inviting, and his mind was vibrating with a million thoughts. He was intent on proving that the word “dying” was not synonymous with “useless.”
The New Year came and went. Although he never said it to anyone, Morrie knew this would be the last year of his life. He was using a wheelchair now, and he was fighting time to say all the things he wanted to say to all the people he loved. When a colleague at Brandeis died suddenly of a heart attack, Morrie went to his funeral. He came home depressed.
“What a waste,” he said. “All those people saying all those wonderful things, and Irv never got to hear any of it.”
Morrie had a better idea. He made some calls. He chose a date. And on a cold Sunday afternoon, he was joined in his home by a small group of friends and family for a “living funeral.” Each of them spoke and paid tribute to my old professor. Some cried. Some laughed.”
“Morrie cried and laughed with them. And all the heartfelt things we never get to say to those we love, Morrie said that day. His “living funeral” was a rousing success.
Only Morrie wasn’t dead yet. In fact, the most unusual part of his life was about to unfold.
“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.”
“Dying,” Morrie suddenly said, “is only one thing to be sad over, Mitch. Living unhappily is something else. 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. Create your own. Most people can’t do it. They’re more unhappy than me-even in my current condition.
The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves.
The Tension of Opposites
“Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn’t. You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted.”
“A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. And most of us live somewhere in the middle.”
“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.”
The First Tuesday – The World
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to 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.’ ”
The Second Tuesday – Feeling Sorry for Yourself
Mitch: I asked Morrie if he felt sorry for himself.
Morrie: “Sometimes, in the mornings,” he said. “That’s when I mourn. I feel around my body, I move my fingers and my hands-whatever I can still move-and I mourn what I’ve lost. I mourn the slow, insidious way in which I’m dying. But then I stop mourning”
“Just like that?
“I give myself a good cry if I need it. But then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life. On the people who are coming to see me. On the stories I’m going to hear. On you-if it’s Tuesday. Because we’re Tuesday people.”
The Third Tuesday– Regrets
The culture doesn’t encourage you to think about such things until you’re about to die. We’re so wrapped up with egotistical things, career, family, having enough money, meeting the mortgage, getting a new car, fixing the radiator when it breaks-we’re involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going. 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?
“You need someone to probe you in that direction. It won’t just happen automatically.”
The Fourth Tuesday – Death
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.
Do what the Buddhists do. Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, `Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?’
“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
Mitch: But everyone knows someone who has died, I said. Why is it so hard to think about dying?
Morrie: Most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.
And facing death changes all that?
“Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you are going to die, you see everything much differently.”
If you really listen to that bird on your shoulder, if you accept that you can die at any time then you might not be as ambitious as you are.
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.
The Fifth Tuesday – Family
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.’
This is part of what a family is about, not just love, but letting others know there’s someone who is watching out for them. It’s what I missed so much when my mother died-what I call your `spiritual security’-knowing that your family will be there watching out for you. Nothing else will give you that. Not money. Not fame.”
The Sixth Tuesday – Emotions
Learn to detach.
“You know what the Buddhists say? Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent.”
“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.’
The Seventh Tuesday – Fear of Aging
Mitch: I felt a little ashamed, because our culture tells us we should be ashamed if we can’t wipe our own behind. But then I figured, Forget what the culture says. I have ignored the culture much of my life. I am not going to be ashamed. What’s the big deal?
It’s like going back to being a child again. Someone to bathe you. Someone to lift you. Someone to wipe you. We all know how to be a child. It’s inside all of us. For me, it’s just remembering how to enjoy it.
“The truth is, when our mothers held us, rocked us, stroked our heads-none of us ever got enough of that. We all yearn in some way to return to those days when we were completely taken care of-unconditional love, unconditional attention. Most of us didn’t get enough.”
It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.
If you’re always battling against getting older, you’re always going to be unhappy, because it will happen anyhow.
The Eighth Tuesday – Money
“We put our values in the wrong things. And it leads to very disillusioned lives.“
Do you know how they brainwash people?
They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it-and have it repeated to us-over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.
“Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.”
There’s a big confusion in this country over what we want versus what we need. You need food, you want a chocolate sundae. You have to be honest with yourself. You don’t need the latest sports car, you don’t need the biggest house.
“The truth is, you don’t get satisfaction from those things. You know what really gives you satisfaction?” What?
“Offering others what you have to give.”
Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.
“Mitch, if you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down at you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.”
“Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.”
The Ninth Tuesday – How Love Goes On
“I believe in being fully present,” Morrie said. “That means you should be with the person you’re with. When I’m talking to you now, Mitch, I try to keep focused only on what is going on between us. I am not thinking about something we said last week. I am not thinking of what’s coming up this Friday. I am not thinking about doing another Koppel show, or about what medications I’m taking.”
“Part of the problem, Mitch, is that everyone is in such a hurry,” Morrie said. “People haven’t found meaning in their lives, so they’re running all the time looking for it. They think the next car, the next house, the next job. Then they find those things are empty, too, and they keep running.”
The Tenth Tuesday – Marriage
“In this culture, it’s so important to find a loving relationship with someone because so much of the culture does not give you that. But the poor kids today, either they’re too selfish to take part in a real loving relationship, or they rush into marriage and then six months later, they get divorced. They don’t know what they want in a partner. They don’t know who they are themselves-so how can they know who they’re marrying?”
“You get tested. You find out who you are, who the other person is, and how you accommodate or don’t.”
The Eleventh Tuesday – Culture
People are only mean when they’re threatened,” he said later that day, “and that’s what our culture does. That’s what our economy does. Even people who have jobs in our economy are threatened, because they worry about losing them. And when you get threatened, you start looking out only for yourself. You start making money a god. It is all part of this culture.
He exhaled. “Which is why I don’t buy into it.”
“Here’s what I mean by building your own little subculture,” Morrie said. “I don’t mean you disregard every rule of your community. I don’t go around naked, for example. I don’t run through red lights. The little things, I can obey. 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.”
“Take my condition. The things I am supposed to be embarrassed about now-not being able to walk, not being able to wipe my ass, waking up some mornings wanting to cry-there is nothing innately embarrassing or shaming about them.”
“It’s the same for women not being thin enough, or men not being rich enough. It’s just what our culture would have you believe. Don’t believe it.”
Every society has its own problems
The way to do it, I think, isn’t to run away. You have to work at creating your own culture.
“Look, no matter where you live, the biggest defect we human beings have is our shortsightedness. We don’t see what we could be. We should be looking at our potential, stretching ourselves into everything we can become. But if you’re surrounded by people who say `I want mine now,’ you end up with a few people with everything and a military to keep the poor ones from rising up and stealing it.”
“The problem, Mitch, is that we don’t believe we are as much alike as we are. Whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, men and women. If we saw each other as more alike, we might be very eager to join in one big human family in this world, and to care about that family the way we care about our own.”
“But believe me, when you are dying, you see it is true. We all have the same beginning-birth-and we all have the same end-death. So how different can we be?”
“Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.”
The Twelfth Tuesday – Forgiveness
“There is no point in keeping vengeance or stubbornness. These things”-he sighed-“these things I so regret in my life. Pride. Vanity. Why do we do the things we do?” It’s not just other people we need to forgive, Mitch,” he finally whispered. We also need to forgive ourselves.
Yes. For all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done. You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened. That doesn’t help you when you get to where I am. I always wished I had done more with my work; I wished I had written more books. I used to beat myself up over it. Now I see that never did any good. Make peace. You need to make peace with yourself and everyone around you.
The Thirteenth Tuesday – The Perfect Day
“I read a book the other day. It said as soon as someone dies in a hospital, they pull the sheets up over their head, and they wheel the body to some chute and push it down. They can’t wait to get it out of their sight. People act as if death is contagious.”
“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.”
There is no formula to relationships. They have to be negotiated in loving ways, with room for both parties, what they want and what they need, what they can do, and what their life is like.
In business, people negotiate to win. They negotiate to get what they want. Maybe you’re too used to that. Love is different. Love is when you are as concerned about someone else’s situation as you are about your own.
You’ve had these special times with your brother, and you no longer have what you had with him. You want them back. You never want them to stop. But that’s part of being human. Stop, renew, stop, renew.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.