I was on the train, traveling from Glasgow, Montana to San Diego, California the first time I read tuesdays with Morrie. It was during the Christmas holidays and I was traveling with my family, my dad, and another family. The train was packed, like sardine-can-analogy packed, and the trip was long. Almost three days, if I remember right. My dad had brought along some books, and tuesdays with Morrie was the one that circulated through our little group. Clint stayed up one night in the observation car and read it straight through. I read it the next day. That was almost five years ago.

Morrie Schwartz (source)

Tuesdays with Morrie was the book chosen to be read for our book club this month. I’ve read it more slowly this time. Because I know how it ends, you know, so I’m not in such a hurry to glean its wisdom. I’ve read it more slowly, and I’ve underlined, and I’ve pondered over the words and wondered how to make them part of my life.

This is what I underlined:

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.”

After the funeral, my life changed. I felt as if time were suddenly precious, water going down an open drain, and I could not move quickly enough.

“Have you found someone to share your heart with?” he asked. “Are you giving to your community?” “Are you at peace with yourself?” “Are you trying to be as human as you can be?”

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.

“Which side wins?” He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth. “Love wins. Love always wins.”

He had created a cocoon of human activities – conversation, interaction, affection – and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl.

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.

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.” I knew what he was saying. We all need teachers in our lives.

… he was very clear about the important things in life. I wanted that clarity.

Here in Morrie’s office, life went on one precious day at a time.

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

“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.”

As our great poet Auden said, “Love each other or perish.”

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.

Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion.

Morrie always made good peace.

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.

You know what really gives you satisfaction? Offering others what you have to give. I don’t mean money, Mitch. I mean your time. Your concern. Your storytelling.

“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 you community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning. You notice,” he added, grinning, “there’s noting in there about a salary.”

Learning to pay attention? How important could that be? I now know it is more important than almost everything they taught us in college.

Instead of giving them the finger, you let them go, and you smile.

… 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? Your belief in the importance of your marriage.

“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.”

Death ends a life, not a relationship.

Sometimes, when you’re losing someone, you hang on to whatever tradition you can.

He patted my hand weakly, keeping it on his chest. “This … is how we say … good-bye …”

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 thing as “too late” in life. He was changing until the day he said good-bye.

Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teacher, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it is only in your head. Sometimes it is right alongside their beds.

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