“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Henry Adams
I’d come face to face with Tuesdays with Morrie multiple times earlier. The encounters had always been awkward. After all, I couldn’t just say, “Hey, I’m sorry but you’re not my kind.” It was one such chance encounter while traveling that I met the book again. Ashamed, I decided to give it a go. A recommendation from my husband gave me courage to go on that first date with the book. Who knew I was in for such a surprise? I was hooked after reading just the first few pages.
Tuesdays with Morrie, written by Mitch Albom, revolves around a dying man’s learnings about life, death and everything in between. But I connected even more with how these reflections force his favourite student, Mitch, to stop and ponder over where his life is taking him.
The story begins at Brandeis University, where Mitch is a student, in the spring of 1979. Morrie, a professor at the University, teaches sociology, instead of the “real world skills” of accounting and finance. Morrie soon becomes Mitch’s mentor, pushing him to pursue his interests and develop a humane worldview. At his graduation, Mitch promises that he’ll keep in touch. But as most other student-teacher relationships, this one too, was pushed to the back of Mitch’s mind with the prime real estate being taken up by the usual suspects – need to make money, buy a house, own a car,get that promotion. It was only after a decade and a half that Mitch hears of Morrie again. It isn’t happy news – Morrie is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is then that Mitch reconnects with his old professor who begins teaching the final course of his life, a course on living, loving, and accepting yourself and others for who we really are.
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
The book, itself only 192 pages long, is written from Mitch’s point of view, as he first learns of his professor’s disease and then speaks with him about life over multiple sessions. It is structured into short chapters around 14 Tuesdays that Morrie and Mitch spent together, each dealing with a specific theme. The themes range from family, emotions and the world to death and regrets. Though the book might feel preachy at times and doesn’t say much that most people don’t already know instinctively, I loved the lucid and clear expression, which will make you read a page again – just so that you can absorb the depth of what was said in a few lines. It delves into the most basic truths of our existence. Morrie made me stop and think about the life I am leading and the choices I am making. I could easily find more than a couple of changes to make.
There was one paragraph that knocked hard against my head and heart, and has stayed with me ever since:
“Mitch,” he said, “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?”
It beautifully sums up the endless loop we are in, where we anchor our happiness to external events. Morrie invites the reader to stop, stand still, think and break out of this rut.
For me, this book also has an army of unsung heroes – Morrie’s family – who stay by his side day and night, till the very end. Morrie couldn’t have told his story if his family and caregivers weren’t working away silently, tirelessly to help him make the most of his days. More than his words, it is these people who strongly reinforce the need to focus more on people than material things. In the end, it’s the people - living in the house you built, riding pillion on the bike you bought, laughing and dining with you in that expensive restaurant – people… that really matter.
And Morrie teaches us to slow down and appreciate them.