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tuesdays with Morrie – We talk About the Perfect Day

 

The Thirteenth Tuesday
  – We talk About the Perfect Day

  Morrie wanted to be cremated. He had discussed it with Charlotte, and they decided it was the best way. The rabbi from Brandeis, Al Axelrad – a longtime friend whom they chose to conduct the funeral service – had come to visit Morrie, and Morrie told him of his cremation plans.

   "And Al?"
   "Yes?"
   "Make sure they don’t overcook me."

   The rabbi was stunned. 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. It was withering to useless skin and bones anyhow, which made it easier to let go.

   "We are so afraid of the sight of death," Morrie told me when I sat down.I adjusted the microphone on his collar, but it kept flopping over. Morrie coughed. He was counghing all the time now.

   "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 pust it down. They can’t wait to get it out of their sight. People act as if death is contagious."

   I fumbled with the microphone. Morrie glanced at my hands.    "It’s not contagious, you know. Death is as natural as life. It’s part of the deal we made."

   He coughed again, and I moved back and waited always braced for something serious. Morrie had been having bad nights lately. Frightening nights. He could sleep only a few hours at a time before violent hacking spells woke him. the nurses would come into the bedroom, pound him on the back, try to bring up the poison. Even if they got him breathing normally again – "normally" meaning with the help of the oxygen machine – the fight left him fatigued the whole next day.

   The oxygen tube was up his nose now. I hated the sight of it. To me, it symbolized helplessness. I wanted to pull it out.

   "Last night…." Morrie said softly. 

   Yes ? Last night ?

   "…..I had a terrible spell. It went on for hours. And I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it. No breath. No end to the choking. At one point, I started to get dizzy….and then I felt a certain peace, I felt that I was ready to go."

   His eyes widened, "Mitch, it was a most incredible feeling. The sensation of accepting what was happening, being at peace. I was thinking about a dream I had last week, where I was crossing a bridge into something unknown. Being ready to move on to whatever is next."

   But you didn’t.
   Morrie waited a moment. He shook his head slightly.
  "No. I didn’t. But I felt that I could. Do you understand ?
  "That’s what we’re all looking for. A certain peace with the idea of dying. If we know, in the end, that we can ultimately have that peace with dying, then we can finally do the really hard thing."

   Which is ?
   "Make peace with living."
   He asked to see the hibiscus plant on the ledge behind him. I cupped it in my hand and held it up near his eyes. 

   He smiled.    "It’s natural to die," he said again. "The fact that we make such a big hullabaloo over it is all because we don’t see ourselves as part of nature. We think because we’re human we’re something above nature."

    He smiled at the plant.
    "We’re not. Everything that gets born, dies. " He looked at me.
    "Do you accept that ?"
    Yes.
    "All right," he whispered, "now here’s the payoff.
     Here is how we are different from these wonderful plants and animals.

    "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."

     His voice was raspy, which usually meant he needed to stop for a while. I placed the plant back on the ledge and went to shut off the tape recorder. This is the last sentence

 Morrie got out before I did :    "Death ends a life, not a relationship."

  —- There had been a development in the treatment of ALS: an experimental drug that was just gaining passage. It was not a cure, but a delay, a slowing of the decay for perhaps a few months. Morrie had heard about it, but he was too far gone. Besides, the medicine wouldn’t be available for several months.

      "Not for me,"Morrie said, dismissing it.
      In all the time he was sick, Morrie never held out hope he would be cured. He was realistic to a fault. One time, I asked if someone were to wave a magic wand and make him all better, would he become, in time, the man he had been before ?

       He shook his head. "No way I could go back. I am a different self now. I’m different in my attitudes. I’m different appreciating my body, which I didn’t do fully before. I’m different in terms of trying to grapple with the big questions, the ultimate questions, the ones that won’t go away.

      "That’s the thing, you see. Once you get your fingers on the important questions, you can’t turn away from them."

       And which are the important questions ?
      "As I see it, they have to do with love, responsibility, spirituality, awareness.  And if I were healthy today, those would still be my issues. They should have been all along."

      I tried to imagine Morrie healthy. I tried to imagine him pulling the covers from his body, stepping from that chair, the two of us going for a walk around the neighborhood, the way we used to walk around campus. I suddenly realized it had been sixteen years since I’d seen him standing up. Sixteen years ?

      What if you had one day perfectly healthy, I asked ?
      What would you do ?
      "Twenty-four hours ?"
      Twenty-four hours.
    "Let’s see… I’d get up in the morning, do my exercises, have a lovely breakfast of sweet rolls and tea, go for a swim, then have my friends come over for a nice lunch. I’d have them come one or two at a time so we could talk about their families, their issues, talk about how much we mean to each other.

    "Then I’d like to go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven’t seen in so long now.

    "In the evening, we’d all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck – I love duck – and then we’d dance the rest of the night. I’d dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted. And then I’d go home and have a deep, wonderful sleep."

    That’s it ?
    "That’s it."
    It was so simple. So average. I was actually a little disappointed. I figured he’d fly to Italy or have lunch with the President or romp on the seashore or try every exotic thing he could think of. After all these months, lying there, unable to move a leg or a foot – how could he find perfection in such an average day ?

      Then I realized this was the whole point.

—– Before I left that day, Morrie asked if he could bring up a topic. 

      "Your brother," he said.

      I felt a shiver. I do not know how Morrie knew this was on my mind. I had been trying to call my brother in Spain for weeks, and had learned – from a friend of his – that he was flying back and forth to a hospital in Amsterdam.

     "Mitch, I know it hurts when you can’t be with someone you love. But you need to be at peace with his desires. Maybe he doesn’t want you interrupting your life. Maybe he can’t deal with that burden. I tell everyone I know to carry on with the life they know – don’t ruin it because I am dying."

      But he’s my brother I said.
      "I know," Morrie said. "That’s why it hurts."

      I saw Peter in my mind when he was eight years old, his curly blond hair puffed into a sweaty ball atop his head. I saw us wrestling in the yard next to our house, the grass stains soaking through the knees of our jeans. I saw him singing songs in front of the mirror, holding a brush as a microphone, and I saw us squeezing into the attic where we hid together as children, testing our parents’ will to find us for dinner.

     And then I saw him as the adult who had drifted away, thin and frail, his face bony from the chemotherapy treatments.

     Morrie, I said. Why doesn’t he want to see me ?
     My old professor sighed. "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 to had these special times with your brother, and you no longer have what you had with him. You want them back. You never want to stop. But that’s part of being human. Stop, renew, stop,renew."

   I looked at him. I saw all the death in the world. I felt helpless. 

   "You’ll find a way back to your brother," Morrie said.

   How do you know ?

   Morrie smiled. "You found me, didn’t you ?"

tuesday With Morrie – We talk about Marriage

 

The Tenth Tuesday – We talk about Marriage

 

I brought a visitor to meet Morrie. My wife.

  He had been asking me since the first day I came.

  "When do I meet Janine ? "  "When are you bringing her ?" I’d always had excuses until a few days earlier, when I called his house to see how he was doing.

    It took a while for Morrie to get to the receiver. And when he did, I could hear the fumbling as someone held it to his ear. He could no longer lift a phone by himself.

    "Hiiiiii," he gasped.

     You doing okay, Coach ?

     I heard him exhale, "Mitch….your coach…..isn’t having such a great day….."

     His sleeping time was getting worse. He needed oxygen almost nightly now, and his coughing spells had become frightening. One cough could last an hour, and he never knew if he’d be able to stop. He always said he would die when the disease got his lungs. I shuddered when I thought how close death was.

      I’ll see you on Tuesday, I said. You’ll have a better day then.

      "Mitch."

      Yeah ?

      "Is your wife there with you ? "

       She was sitting next to me.

       "Put her on. I want to hear her voice.
        Now, I am married to a woman blessed with far more intuitive kindness than I. Although she had never met Morrie, she took the phone – I would have shaken my head and whispered, "I’m not here! I’m not here!" – and in a minute, she was connecting with my old professor as if they’d known each other since college. I sensed this, even though all I heard on my end was "Uh-huh…Mitch told me….oh, thank you…."

       When she hung up, she said,"I’m coming next trip."

        And that was that.

        Now we sat in his office, surrounding him in his recliner. Morrie, by his own admission, was a harmless flirt, and while he often had to stop for couging, or to use the commode, he seemed to find new reserves of energy with Janine in the room. He looked at photos from our wedding, which Janine had brought along.

        "You are from Detroit?" Morrie said.

         Yes, Janine said.

          "I taught in Detroit for one year, in the late forties. I remember a funny story about that."

         He stopped to blow his nose. When he fumbled with the tissue, I held it in place and he blew weakly into it. I squeezed it lightly against his nostrils, then pulled it off, like a mother does to a child in a car seat.

         "Thank you, MItch." He looked at Janine. "My helper, this one is."

         Janine smiled.

          "Anyhow. My story. There were a bunch of sociologists at the university, and we used to play poker with other staff members, including this guy who was a surgeon. One night, after the game, he said, ‘Morrie, I want to come see you work.’ I said fine. So he came to one of my classes and watched me teach.

         "After the class was over he said, ‘All right, now, how would you like to see me work? I have an operation tonight.’ I wanted to return the favor, so I said okay.

         "He took me up to the hospital. He said, ‘Scrub down, put on a mask, and get into a gown.’ And next thing I knew, I was right next to him at the operating table. There was this woman, the patient, on the table, naked from the waist down. And he took a knife and went zip – just like that ! Well….."

          Morrie lifted a finger and spun it around.

          "……I started to go like this. I’m about to faint. All the blood. Yech. The nurse next to me said, ‘What’s the matter, Doctor ?’ and I said, ‘I’m no damn doctor! Get me out of here!’"

       We laughed, and Morrie laughed, too, as hard as he could, with his limited breathing. It was the first time in weeks that I could recall him telling a story like this. How strange, I thought, that he nearly fainted once from watching someone else’s illness, and now he was so able to endure his own.

       Connie knocked on the door and said that Morrie’s lunch was ready. It was not the carrot soup and vegetable cakes and Greek pasta I had brought that morning from Bread and Circus. Although I tried to buy the softest of foods now, they were still beyond Morrie’s limited strength to chew and swallow. He was eating mostly liquid supplements, with perhaps a bran muffin tossed in until it was mushy and easily idgested. Charlotte would puree almost everything in a blender now. He was taking food through a straw. I still shopped every week and walked in with bags to show him, but it was more for the look on his face than anything else. When I opened the refrigerator, I would see an overflow of containers. I guest I was hoping that one day we would go back to eating a real lunch together and I could watch the sloppy way in which he talked while chewing, the food spilling happily out of his mouth. This was a foolish hope.

    "So….Janine," Morrie said.

      She smiled.

      "You are lovely. Give me your hand."

     She did.

     "Mitch says that you’re a professional singer."

      Yes, Janine said.

      "He says you’re great."

      Oh, she laughed. No. He just says that.

      Morrie raised his eyebrows, "Will you sing something for me ?"

      Now, I have heard people ask this of Janine for almst as long as I have known her. When people find out you sing for a living, they always say, "Sing something for us." Shy about her talent, and a perfectionsit about conditions, Janine never did. She would politely decline. Which is what I expected now.

        Which is when she began to sing :

     "The very thought of you

       and I forget to do

        the little ordinary things that everyone ought to do…."

       It was a 1930s standard, witten by Ray Noble, and Janine sang it sweetly, looking straight at Morrie. I was amazed, once again, at his ability to draw emotion from people who otherwise kept it locked away. Morrie closed his eyes to absorb the notes. As my wife’s loving voice filled the room, a crescent smile appeared on his face. And while his body was stiff as a sandbag, you could almost see him dancing inside it.

    "I see your face in every flower,

     your eyes in stars above,

     it’s just the thought of you,

     the very thought of you,

     my love….."

    When she finished, Morrie opened his eyes and tears rolled down his cheeks. In all the years I have listened to my wife sing, I never heard her the way she did at that moment.

 

    Marriage. Almost everyone I knew had a problem with it. Some had problems getting into it, some had problems getting out. My generation seemed to struggle with the commitment, as if it were an alligator from some murky swamp. I had gotten used to attending weddings, congratulating the couple, and feeling only mild surprise when I saw the groom a few years later sitting in a restaurant with a younger woman whom he introduced as a friend. "You know, I’m separated from so-and-so…" he would say.

      Why do we have such problems ? I asked Morrie abou this. Having waited seven years before I proposed to Janine, I wondered if people my age were being more careful than those who came before us, or simply more selfish ?

    "Well, I feel sorry for your generation," Morrie said. "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 ?"

   He sighed. Morrie had counseled so many unhappy lovers in his years as a professor. "It’s sad, because a loved one is so important. You realize that, especially when you’re in a time like I am, when you’re not doing so well. Friends are great, but friends are not going to be here on a night when you’re coughing and can’t sleep and someone has to sit up all night with you, comfort you, try to be helpful."

         Charlotte and Morrie, who met as students, had been married forty-four years. I watched them together now, when she would remind him of his medication, or come in and stroke his neck, or talk about one of their sons. They worked as a team, often needing no more than a silent glance to understand what the other was thinking. charlotte was a private person, different from Morrie, but I knew how much he respected her, because sometimes when we spoke, he would say, "Charlotte might be uncomfortable with me revealing that," and he would end the conversation. It was the only time Morrie held anything back.

      "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 accomodate 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 lfie, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike.

    "And the biggest one of these values, Mitch?

      Yes ?

     "Your belief in 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 by quoting the poem he believed in like a prayer :

                                 "Love each other or perish."

 

 

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Excerpts from “tuesdays with Morrie” (Collection 3)

      In 2005, the famed American author Hunter S. Thompson took his life. He was only sixty-seven, and had no incurable disease. He was wealthy and famous, and his thirty-two-year-old wife loved him. But according to the literary executor of Thompson’s will, “he made a conscious decision that he . . . wasn’t going to suffer the indignities of old age.”

On the fear of aging

    "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. 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 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.

   "And Mitch?"
   He lowered his voice.
   "The fact is, you are going to die eventually."
   I nodded.
   "It won’t matter what you tell yourself."
   I know.
   "But hopefully," he said, "not for a long,long time."


tuesdays with Morrie – Part of the ocean

Part of the ocean

"I heard a nice little story the other day," Morrie says. He closes his eyes for a moment and I wait.

"Okay. the story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air – until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.

  ""My God, this is terrible,’ the wave says. ‘Look what’s going to happen to me!’
   "Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim and it says to him ‘why do you look so sad ?’

   "The first wave says , ‘You don’t understand! We’re all going crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t it terrible ?’

   "The second wave says,’No, you don’t understand.You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ovean.’"

   I smile. Morrie closes his eyes again.

   "Part of the ocean,"part of the ocean."

   I watch him breathe, in and out, in and out.

      We are part of the ocean of humanity.
      If we realise our shared humanity and destiny we would have less reason to hurt or harm another.

tuesdays with Morrie – We talk about Money

The Eigth tuesday – We talk about money

  I held up the newspaper so that Morrie could see it :

   I DON’T WANT MY TOMBSTONE TO READ
    "I NEVER OWNED A NETWORK."

   Morrie laughed, then shook his head. The morning sun was coming through the window behind him, falling on the pink flowers of the hibiscus plant that sat on the sill.  the quote was from Ted Turner, the billionaire media mogul, founder of CNN, who had been lamenting his inability to snatch up the CBS network in a corporate megadeal. I had brought the story to Morrie this morning because I wondered if Turner ever found himself in my old professor’s position, his breath disappearing, his body turning to stone, his days being crossed off the calendar one by one – would he really be crying over owning a network ?

   "It’s all part of the same problem, Mitch," Morrie said. "We put our values in the wrong things. And it leads to very disillusioned lives. I think we should talk about that."

    Morrie was focused. There were good days and bad days now. He was having a good day. The night before, he had been entertained by a local a cappella group that had come to the house to perform, and he relayed the story excitedly, as if the Ink Spots themselves had dropped by for a visit. Morrie’s love for music was strong even before he got sick, but now it was so intense, it moved him to tears. He would listen to opera sometimes at night, closing his eyes, riding along with the magnificient voices as they dipped and soared.
 
    "You should have heard this group last night, Mitch. Such a sound!"

     Morrie had always been taken with simple pleasures, singing, laughing, dancing. Now, more than ever, material things held little or no significance. When people die, you always hear the expression "You can’t take it with you." Morrie seemed to know that a long time ago.

    "We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on in our country," Morrie sighed. "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.

    "Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. ‘Guess what I got ? Guess what I got?’

    "You know how I always interpreted that ? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.

    "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."

    I glanced around Morrie’s study. It was the same today as it had been the first day I arrived. The books held their same places on the shelves. The papers cluttered the same old desk. The outside rooms had not been improved or upgraded. In fact, Morrie really hadn’t bought anything new – except medical equipment – in a long, long time, maybe years. The day he learned that he was terminally ill was the day he lost interest in his purchasing power.

    So the TV was the same old model, the car that Charlotte drove was the same old model, the dishes and the silverware and the towels – all the same. And yet the house had changed so drastically. It had filled with love and teaching and communication. It had filled with friendship and family and honesty and tears. It had filled with colleagues and students and meditation teachers and therapists and nurses and a cappella groups. It had become, in a very real way, a wealthy home, even thought Morrie’s bank account was rapidly depleting.

   "There’s a big confusion in this country over what we want versus what we need," Morrie said. "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."
    You sound like a Boy Scout.
    "I don’t mean money, Mitch. I mean your time. Your concern. Your storytelling. It’s not so hard. There’s a senior center that opened near here. Dozens of elderly people come there every day. If you’re a young man or young woman and you have a skill, you are asked to come and teach it. Say you know computers. You come there and teach them computers. You are very welcome there. And they are very grateful. This is how you start to get respect, by offering something that you have.

    "There are plenty of places to do this. You don’t need to have a big talent. There are lonely people in hospitals and shelters who only want some companionship. You play cards with a lonely older man and you find new respect for yourself, because you are needed.

    "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 creating sosmething that gives you purpose and meaning.

   "You notice," he added, grinning, "there’s nothing in there about a salary."

    I jotted some of the things Morrie was saying on a yellow pad. I did this mostly because I didn’t want him to see my eyes, to know what I was thinking, that I had been, for much of my life since graduation, pursuing these very things he had been railing against – bigger toys, nicer house. Because I worked among rich and famous athletes, I convinced myself that my needs were realistic, my greed inconsequential compared to theirs.

     This was a smokescreen. Morrie made that obvious.
     "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."

    He paused, then looked at me. "I’m dying, right ?"
    Yes.
    "Why do you think it’s so important for me to hear other people’s problems ? Don’t I have enough pain and suffering of my own ?

     Of course I do. But giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I llok 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."

    He coughed and reached for the small bell that lay on the chair. He had to poke a few times at it, and I finally picked it up and put it in his hand.

    "Thank you," he whispered. He shook it weakly, trying to get Connie’s attention.

   "This Ted Turner guy," Morrie said, "he couldn’t think of anything else for his tombstone?"

——————–
   "Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning when I wake up, I am reborn."

                    Mahatma Gandhi

Excerpts from “tuesdays with Morrie” (Collection 2)

On trusting your heart
"
   "On this day, Morrie says he has an exercise for us to try. We are to stand, facing away from our classmates, and fall backward, relying on another student to catch us. Most of us are uncomfortable with this, and we cannot let go for more than a few inches before stopping ourselves. We laugh in embarassment.
    Finally, one student, a thin, quiet , dark-haired girl whom I notice almost always wears bulky white fisherman sweaters,crosses her arms over her chest, closes her eyes, leans back, and does not flinch, like one of those Lipton tea commercials where the model splashes into the pool.
    For a moment, I am sure she is going to thump on the floor. At the last instant, her assigned partner grabs her head and shoulders and yanks her up harshly.
   "Whoa!" several students yell. Some clap.
   Morrie finally smiles.
   "You see," he says to the girl, "you closed your eyes. That was the difference. 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."

———————————————————————————————-
On Silence

"How will you give when you can no longer speak?" Koppel asked.
……..
He(Koppel) asked Morrie about silence. He mentioned a dear friend Morrie had, Maurie Stein, who had first sent Morrie’s aphorisms to the Boston Globe. They had been together since the early sixties. Now Stein was going deaf. Koppel imagined the two men together one day, one unable to speak, the other unable to hear. What would that be like ?

"We will hold hands," Morrie said. "And there’ll be a lot ot love passing between us. Ted, we’ve had thirty-five years of friendship. You don’t need speech or hearing to feel that."

———————————————————————————————
On experiencing life through detachment

"What I’m doing now," he continued, his eyes still closed, "is detaching myself from the experience."
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 throug, 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."

…….My 2 cents worth from Buddhist perspective :  Never deny or reject negative events or emotions. Denial and repression only makes it come back in uglier ways.  Buddhists talked a lot about detachment but how could one detach from something they themselves never know of or felt due to our ability to repress. Absence of emotions is not a sign of detachment but a sign of our cleverness in hiding and repressing them. Or worst yet insensitive to it…..
===========================================================================================
On Needing others

"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 others as well."

……My 2 Cents worth : all of life is relationship – with ourselves, with others and with our environment. Recognising this deep interdependence evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude. Without gratitude we tended to be selfish and self-serving.

===========================================================================================
On loving

    Koppel asked Morrie at the end of the interview if there’s anything he wanted to tell the millions of people he had touched.

   "Be compassionate." Morrie whispered. "And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place."

    He took a breath, then added his mantra : "Love each other or die."

…….My 2 cents worth : To truly live, we have to love. Love is the breath of life. Without it we are nothing more than walking, talking zombies, going through the motion of living.

tuesdays with Morrie – We talked of forgiveness

      It is 1979, a basketball game in the Brandeis gym. The team is doing well, and the student section begins a chant,"We’re number one! We’re number one!" Morrie is sitting nearby. He is puzzled by the cheer. At one point, in the midst of "We’re number one!" he rises and yells, "What’s wrong with being number two ?"

   The students look at him. They stop chanting. He sits down, smiling and triumphant.

The Twelfh tuesday – We talked of forgiveness
================================

"Forgive yourself before you die. Then forgive others."

    This was a few days after the "Nightline" interview. The sky was rainy and dark, and Morrie was beneath a blanket. I sat at the far end of his chair, holding his bare feet. They were callused and curled, and his toenails were yellow. I had a small jar of lotion, and I squeezed some into my hands and began to massage his ankles.

     It was another of the things I had watched his helpers do for months, and now, in an attempt to hold on to what I could of him, I had volunteered to do it myself. The disease had left Morrie without the ability even to wiggle his toes, yet he could still feel pain, and massages helped relieve it. Also, of course, Morrie liked being held and touched. And at this point, anything I could do to make him happy, I was going to do.

     "Mitch," he said, returning to the subject of 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?"

     The importance of forgiving was my question. I had seen those movies where the patriarch of the family is on his death bed and he calls for his estranged son so that he can make peace before he goes. I wondered if Morrie had any of that inside him, a sudden need to say "I’m sorry" before he died?

     Morrie nodded. "Do you see that sculpture?" He tilted his head toward a bust that sat high on a shelf against the far wall of his office. I had never really noticed it before. Cast in bronze, it was the face of a man in his early forties, wearing a necktie, a tuft of hair falling across his forehead.

     "That’s me," Morrie said. "A friend of mine sculpted that maybe thirty years ago. His name was Norman. We used to spend so much time together. We went swimming. We took rides to New York. He had me over to his house in Cambridge, and he sculpted that bust of me down in his basement. It took several weeks to do it, but he really wanted to get it right."

     I studied the face. How strange to see a three-dimensional Morrie, so healthy, so young, watching over us as we spoke. Even in bronze, he had a whimsical look, and I thought this friend had sculpted a little spirit as well.

      "Well, here’s the sad part of the story," Morrie said. "Norman and his wife moved away to Chicago, A little while later, my wife, Charlotte, had to have a pretty serious operation. Norman and his wife never got in touchwith us. I know they knew about it. Charlotte and I were very hurt because they never called to see how she was. So we dropped the relationship.

      "Over the years, I met Norman a few times and he always tried to reconcile, but I didn’t accept it. I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation. I was prideful. I shrugged him off. "

      His voice choked.  "Mitch . . . a few years ago . . . he died of cancer. I feel so sad. I never got to see him. I never got to forgive. It pains me now so much …"

      He was crying again, a soft and quiet cry, and because his head was back, the tears rolled off the side of his face before they reached his lips.

      Sorry, I said.
      "Don’t be," he whispered. "Tears are okay."

      I continued rubbing lotion into his lifeless toes. He wept for a few minutes, alone with his memories.

      "It’s not just other people we need to forgive, Mitch," he finally whispered. We also need to forgive ourselves."

       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."

        I leaned over and dabbed at the tears with a tissue. Morrie flicked his . eyes open and closed. His breathing was audible, like a light snore.

        "Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Don’t wait, Mitch. Not everyone gets the time I’m getting. Not everyone is as lucky."

         I tossed the tissue into the wastebasket and returned to his feet. Lucky? I pressed my thumb into his hardened flesh and he didn’t even feel it.

         "The tension of opposites, Mitch. Remember that? Things pulling in different directions?"
I remember.

         "I mourn my dwindling time, but I cherish the chance it gives me to make things right."
We sat there for a while, quietly, as the rain splattered against the windows. The hibiscus plant behind his head was still holding on, small but firm.

         "Mitch," Morrie whispered.
         Uh-huh? I rolled his toes between my fingers, lost in the task.

         "Look at me."
         I glanced up and saw the most intense look in his eyes.

         "I don’t know why you came back to me. But I want to say this . . ."
         He paused, and his voice choked.
         "If I could have had another son, I would have liked it to be you."

         I dropped my eyes, kneading the dying flesh of his feet between my fingers. For a moment, I felt afraid, as if accepting his words would somehow betray my own father. But when I looked up, I saw Morrie smiling through tears and I knew there was no betrayal in a moment like this.

          All I was afraid of was saying good-bye.

Excerpts from “tuesday with Morrie” (collection 1)

1.   On confusion of age.

Morrie : Have I told you about the tension of opposites?
             Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound tod       
            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."
Mitch  : Sounds like a wrestleing match
Morrie : Yes, you could describe life that way
Mitch  :  So which side wins ?
 
         (He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth.)

Morrie : Love wins. Love always wins.

2. On modern culture

   "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."

   "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."

3. On empathy

   "..it’s hard to explain, Mitch. Now that I’m suffering, I feel closer to people who suffer than I ever
did before. The other night, on TV, I saw people in Bosnia running across the street, getting fired upon,
killed, innocent victims….and I just started to cry. I feel their anguish as if it were my own. I don’t
know any of these people. But – how can I put this ? – I’m almost….. drawn to them."

4. On caring for people

Morrie  : Mitch, you asked about caring for people I don’t even know. But can I tell you the thing I’m
              learning most with this disease ?
Mitch   : What’s that ?
Morrie  : The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.
              Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we thing 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.’

              Love is the only rational act.

 

tuesdays with Morrie – We Talk about Death

The Fourth Tuesday –  We Talk About Death

"Let’s begin with this idea," Morris said. "Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it."

    He was in a businesslike mood this Tuesday. The subject was death, the first item on my list. Before I arrived, Morris had scribbled a few notes on small white pieces of paper so that he wouldn’t forget. His shaky handwriting was now indecipherable to everyone but him. It was almost Labor Day, and through the office window I could see the spinach-colored hedges of the backyard and hear the yells of children playing down the street, their last week of freedom before school began.

Back in Detroit, the newspaper strikers were gearing up for a huge holiday demonstration, to show the solidarity of unions against management. On the plane ride in, I had `read about a woman who had shot her husband and two daughters as they lay sleeping, claiming she was protecting them from "the bad people." In California, the lawyers in the O. J. Sirnpson trial were becoming huge celebrities.

Here in Morris’s office, life went on one precious day at a time. Now we sat together, a few feet from the newest additionn to the house… an oxygen machine.  It was small, – and portable, about knee-high. On some nights, when.-he couldn’t get enough air to swallow,.. Morrie attached the long plastic tubing to his nose, clamping on, his nostrils like a leech. I hated the idea of Morris connected to a machine of any kind, , and I tried not to look at, it as Morris spoke.

"Everyone knows they’re going to die," he said again,.. "but nobody believes, it. If we did, we would, do things differently."

So we kid ourselves about death, I said.
"Yes. But there’s a better approach. To know you’re going to die, and to-be spared for it at any time. That’s better. That way you can actually be more involved in your life while you’re living."

How can you ever be prepared to die?
"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?"

He turned his head to his shoulder as if the bird were there now. "Is today the day I die?" he-said. .

 Morris borrowed freely from all religions. He was born Jewish, but became an agnostic when he was a teenager, partly , because of al that had happened to him as a child. He enjoyed some of the philosophies of Buddhism  and Christianity, and he still felt at home, culturally, in Judaism. He was a religious mutt, which made him even more open to the students he taught over the years. And the things he was saying in his final months on earth seemed, to transcend all religious differences. Death has a way of doing that.

"The. truth is Mitch," he said, "once you learn to die, you learn how to live."

 I nodded.
 "I’m going to say it again," he said. "Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.He smiled, and I
realized what he was doing. He was making sure I absorbed, this point, without embarrassing me by asking. It was part of what made, him a good teacher.

Did you think much about death before you got sick I asked.

"No." Morrie smiled."I was like everyone else. I once told a friend of mine, in a moment of exuberance, ‘I’m gonna be. the healthiest old man you ever met!’ "

How old were you?    .
"In my sixties." So you were optimistic.
"Why not? Like I said, no one really believes they’re going to die."

But everyone knows someone who has died, I said Why is it so hard to think about dying?

"Because," Morrie continued, "rnost 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.

He sighed. "Learn how to die, and you learn how to live."

I noticed that he quivered now when he moved his hands. His glasses hung around his neck, and when he
lifted them to his eyes, they slid around his temples, as if, he were trying to put them on someone else in the dark. I reached over to help guide them onto his ears.

"Thank you," Morrie Whispered. He smiled when my hand brushed up against his head. The slightest human contact was immediate joy.

 "Mitch, Can I tell, you something?"
  Of course, ‘ I said.
  "You , mightt not like’ it."
  Why not?
   "Well, the truth is,.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."

    I forced a small grin.
    "The things you spend so much time on – all this work you do might not seem as important. -You might have to make room for some more spiritual things."

   Spiritual things?
   "You hate that word, don’t you? `Spiritual.’  You think it’s touchy-feely stuff
   Well, I said.
   He tried to wink, a bad try, and I broke down and laughed.

  "Mitch," he said, laughing along, "even I don’t know what `spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We. are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relatiortshjp we have, the universe , around us, we take these things for granted."

   He nodded toward the window with the, suns streaming in. You see that? You can go out there, outside anytime. You can run up and down the block, and go crazy. I can’t do that, I can’t go out. I can’t run. I can’t  be out there without fear of getting sick. But you know what? I appreciate that window more than you do."

  Appreciate it?
  "Yes. I look out that window, every day. I notice the change in the trees, how strong the wind is blowing. It’s as if I can see time actually passing through that windowpane. Because I know my time is almost done, I am; drawn to nature like I’m seeing it for the first time."

   He stopped, and for a moment we both just looked out the window. I tried to see what he saw. I tried to see time and seasons, my life passing in slow motion. Morrie dropped his head slightly and curled it toward his shoulder.

    "Is it today, little bird?" he asked "Is it today?"’

**** Excerpts OCRed with minimal editing – Pardon errors ****