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Friday, March 6, 2015

Tuesdays with Morrie

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading Tuesdays with Morrie by: Mitch Albom....for those of you who have not read the book or don't know anything about it. It is about newspaper sports columnist Mitch Albom recounts the time spent with his 78-year-old sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, at Brandeis University, who was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). I decided to re-read the book, after a friend posted a few quotes on Facebook; forgetting that Morrie had ALS. I toyed with the idea of not reading the book as soon as it came out Morrie was diagnosed and dying from ALS, being so close to home. However I decided not to remembering the book has some meaningful insight which I wanted to remind myself of. Below are quotes from the book, I hope they mean as much to you as they do to me. I hope one day to be able to live like some of the quotes.


THE SYLLABUS
ALS is like a lit candle. It melts your nerves and leaves your body in a pile of wax. Often, it begins with the legs and works its way up. You lose control of your thigh muscles, so that you cannot support yourself standing. You lose control of your trunk muscles, so that you cannot sit up straight.  By the end, if you are still alive, you are breathing through a tube in a hole in your throat, while your soul, perfectly awake, is imprisoned inside a limp husk, perhaps able to blink, or cluck a tongue, like something from a science fiction movie, the man frozen inside his own flesh. This takes no more than five years from the day you contract the disease.


THE AUDIOVISUAL
"Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do."
"Accept the past as past, without denying it and discarding it."
"Learn to forgive yourself and to forgive others"
"Don't assume that it's too late to get involved."


THE CLASSROOM
"People see me as a bridge. I'm not as alive as I used to be, but I'm not yet dead. I'm sort of ...in-between."


"Have I told you about the tension of opposites?" he says.
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."
Sounds like a wrestling match, I say.
"A wrestling match." He laughs. "Yes, you could describe life that way."
So which side wins, I ask?
"Which side wins?"
He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth.
"Love wins. Love always wins."


FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF
I asked Morrie if he felt sorry for himself.
"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'm done 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. Of 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."
I grinned. Tuesday people.
"Mitch, I don't allow myself any more self-pity than that. A little each morning, a few tears, and that's all."
I thought about all the people I knew who spent many of their waking hours feeling sorry for themselves. How useful it would be to put a daily limit on self-pity. Just a few tearful minutes, then on with the day. And if Morrie could do it, with such a horrible disease...
"It's only horrible if you see it that way," Morrie said. "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."
I studied him in his chair, unable to stand, to wash, to pull on his pants. Lucky? Did he really say lucky?

FAMILY
"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 impotency. As our great poet Auden said, 'Love each other or perish.' " Without love, we are birds with broken wings.

EMOTIONS
Detaching yourself?
"Yes. Detaching myself. And this is important -- not just for someone like me, who is dying, but for someone like you, who is perfectly healthy. Learn to detach."
He opened his eyes. He exhaled. "You know what the Buddhists say? Don't cling to things, because everything is impermanent."
But wait, I said. Aren't you always talking about experiencing life? All the good emotions, all the bad ones?
"Yes."
Well, how can you do that if you're detached?
"Ah. You're thinking, Mitch. 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."
I'm lost.
"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.'"
Morrie's approach was to turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won't hurt you. It will help you. 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 it 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."  

FEAR OF AGING
Morrie had aging in better perspective.
"All this emphasis on youth--I don't buy it," he said. "Listen, I know what a misery being young can be, so don't tell me it's so great. All these kids who came to me with their struggles, their strife, their feelings of inadequacy, their sense that life was miserable, so bad they wanted to kill themselves....
"And, in addition to all the miseries, the young are not wise. They have very little understanding about life. Who wants to live every day when you don't know what's going on? When people are manipulating you, telling you to buy this perfume and you'll be beautiful, or this pair of jeans and you'll be sexy--and you believe them! It's such nonsense."
Weren't you ever afraid to grow old, I asked?
"Mitch, I embrace aging."Embrace it?
"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."
Yes, I said, but if aging were so valuable, why do people always say, "Oh, if I were young again." You never hear people say, "I wish I were sixty-five."
He smiled. "You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied 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 younger people should know something. If you're always battling against getting older, you're always going to be unhappy, because it will happen anyhow.'
"You have to find what's good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now. Looking back makes you competitive. And, age is not a competitive issue."

MONEY
"Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? I wrote it down, but now I can recite it: Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning. …But giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it's as close to healthy as I ever feel.
"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."

HOW LOVE GOES ON
Someone asked me a question the other day.
What was the question? I asked. 
"If I worried about being forgotten after I died?"
Well? Do you?
"I don't think I will be. I've got so many people who have been involved with me in close, intimate ways. And love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone."

MARRIAGE
"I've learned this much about marriage," he said now. "You get tested. You find out who you are, who the other person is, and how you accommodate or don't."
Is there some kind of rule to know if a marriage is going to work?
Morrie smiled. "Things are not that simple, Mitch."
I know. 
"Still," he said, "there are a few rules I know to be true about love and marriage: If you don't respect the other person, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don't know how to compromise, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can't talk openly about what goes on between you, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don't have a common set of values in life, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike.
"And the biggest one of those values, Mitch?"
Yes?
" Your belief in y the importance of your marriage."
He sniffed, then closed his eyes for a moment. 
"Personally," he sighed, his eyes still closed, "I think marriage is a very important thing to do, and you're missing a hell of a lot if you don't try it."
He ended the subject quoting the poem he believed in like a prayer: "Love each other or perish."

OUR 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 logging them. And when you get threatened, you start looking out only for yourself. You start making money a g-d. It is all part of this culture. 
He exhaled. " Which is why I don't buy into it."
"He'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 know 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. 
"Every society has its own problems," Morrie said, lifting his eyebrows, the closest he could come to a shrug. "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 egar to join in one big human family in this world, and to care about that family the way we fare 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."
"In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?
His voice dropped to a whisper, "BUT HERE'S THE SECRET: IN BETWEEN, WE NEED EACH OTHER AS WELL."

AUDIOVISUAL, PART 3
…"Don't let go too soon, but don't hang on too long."
"Be compassionate," Morrie whispered. "And take responsibility for each other. Of we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place."

FORGIVENESS
"Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Don't wait. ...

PERFECT DAY
...But Morrie was able to joke about his body now. The closer he got to the end, the more he saw it as a mere shell, a container of the soul....

"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."
"Death ends a life, not a relationship."

..."there is no formula to relationships. They have to be negotiated in loving ways, with Ron 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. 

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 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.


"The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in."
His voice dropped to a whisper. "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.'"

Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever 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.

…NONE OF US CAN UNDO WHAT WE'VE DONE, OR RELIVE A LIFE ALREADY RECORDED. BUT IF PROFESSOR MORRIS SCHWARTZ TAUGHT ME ANYTHING AT ALL, IT WAS THIS: THERE IS NO SUCH THINGS AS "TOO LATE" IN LIFE. HE WAS CHANGING UNTIL THE DAY HE SAID GOOD-BYE.  

1 comment:

Marci Scher said...

Sandra Huller <3 u!

Daean Menke I read this book years before Claire was diagnosed. I did not recall that Morrie had ALS. Your quotes have so much more meaning and impact. I may have to read it again.

Stephanie Rabinowitz Love this.

Jennifer Paradise Baker Thinking about you!

Jay Weiner "Love wins. Love always wins."

Helene Chupnick-Blankfeld great book!