I recently finished reading Tuesdays with Morrie, a bittersweet story about “an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson.” (A brief introduction of the characters: Morrie, Mitch’s favorite college professor, is the “old man,” Mitch is the “young man,” and “life’s greatest lesson” is, ironically, what it’s like to die. The lesson develops with each successive chapter.)
Mitch pays homage to Morrie by structuring the novel as a class that “met on Tuesdays. It began after breakfast. The subject was The Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience.”
We soon jump to a flashback of Mitch’s graduation day, when he promises Morrie that he’ll stay in touch. He doesn’t. After graduation, Mitch struggles to fulfill his dream of becoming a famous musician, and he soon grows discouraged. He turns, instead, to sports writing, and his life becomes much more fast-paced; there is no time for Mitch to wonder if he’s living the life he wants, but deep down, Mitch knows that he is unsatisfied—he just doesn’t want to confront this fact. Mitch and Morrie continue to live their separate lives (during this time, Morrie is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a chronic nervous system disease), until a chance encounter causes them to reconnect.
Although Mitch has reservations that his current lifestyle will disappoint his former professor, he still arranges to meet up every Tuesday with Morrie, who is delighted to see him (Morrie hardly cares about what job Mitch has. He only cares whether Mitch is doing a job he genuinely loves). Through these Tuesday meetings and with Morrie’s encouragement, Mitch finally takes the time to reevaluate the life he’s living, and he admits to himself that his life has merely been a search for the “bigger paycheck.” Mitch is also aware that he likes himself better when he’s around Morrie, having undergone “a cleansing rinse of human kindness” with each visit. In stark contrast to Mitch’s job-driven life, Morrie has made a conscious effort to live “with dignity, with courage, with humor, with composure,” even in the face of death. Morrie continues to inspire Mitch to live the life he truly wants—to “make peace with yourself and everyone around you”—even as Mitch struggles to accept Morrie’s impending death.
Driven by flashbacks and simple, heartwarming dialogue, Tuesdays with Morrie reminds us that societal values (like the possibility of more money or higher salary) are transient and unsubstantial, although they may seem so important in the moment. Fear of death may cause us to desperately squeeze in as much “happiness” as we can, whether through accomplishments or material things. But instead, we should take ownership of our lives, and fill them up with activities we enjoy doing and people we enjoy seeing. And in moments of frustration or distress, we can all heed Morrie’s advice: “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.”
For anyone looking for a story that discusses loss and life in an uplifting manner, Tuesdays with Morrie is the perfect choice.
Written by Evelyn Syau (’20)
April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.
-T. S. Eliot
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