Many people know about Morrie Schwartz from the book Tuesdays with Morrie, written by his student Mitch Albom based on fourteen visits on Tuesdays. I was one of these people; I read Tuesdays with Morrie a few times over the decade. Tuesdays with Morrie is a small volume with a quiet power to clear the mind and clarify priorities for me.
This weekend, I read Morrie: in His Own Words by Morrie Schwartz. I visited Grover Beach in the winter of 2013. As part of the ritual of exploring a new area I searched for bookshops and found Nan’s Pre-owned Books. It was a delightful second hand bookshop with many volumes. There I came across Morrie: in His Own Words on the shelf among with a few others that the now faded receipt used as a bookmark informs me. This is the only title on the list that, shamefully, I have not read before. I should not criticize myself too harshly on this score though. With so many boxes of books, it is not easy to keep track of them. At least this book is being shelved after randomly opening a couple of boxes among many. The happiest faces I saw this year were the two movers’ when they heard me saying that they could leave the boxes of books in the garage in the absence of anywhere better to put them.
I am glad that I finally read it in September 2017 instead of the winter of 2013. Much personal experience in recent years has helped me to appreciate this book a lot more than I could have done a few years earlier. For example, I often wonder about what my father (severely disabled caused by traumatic brain injuries) feels and thinks, how my actions and words might impact him, and so on. In some way, Morrie’s words help me to picture what my father might have been going through internally without the capability of articulation. Like many, I am thankful to Morrie for writing this book despite suffering from his grave illness.
The book has two parts: understanding where you are now and getting to where you want to be. The first part talks about living with physical limitations, handling frustrations, grieving for your losses, reaching acceptance, and reviewing the past. In the second part, Morrie gives us advice on maintaining an active involvement in life, relating to others, being kind to yourself, dealing with your mind and emotions, developing a spiritual connection, and finally considering death. There is a lot wisdom in this small volume. You may think it is too gloomy a topic to read in a weekend day. I beg to differ on that. I believe through learning to deal with illness and to face death, we see the world in a much clearer way and live a much better life than it otherwise would be. I select a few passages from the book to share with you below and hope you find guidance from Morrie’s words.
When we have an injury to the body, we tend to think it’s an injury to the self. But it was very important for me to make clear to myself that my body is only part of who I am. We are much greater than the sum of our physical parts. The way we look at the world is fashioned by our values and our thoughts about good and evil, things that go into making us who we are. We have emotions, insights, and intuitions. My contention is that as long as you have other faculties – the emotional, psychological, intuitive faculties – you haven’t lost yourself or even diminished yourself. Don’t be ashamed when you’re physically limited or dysfunctional; don’t think that you’re any less because of your condition. In fact, I feel I am even more myself than I was before I got this illness because I have been able to transcend many of the psychological and emotional limitations I had before I developed ALS.
Grieve and mourn for yourself, not only or twice, but again and again. Grieving is a great catharsis and comfort and a way of keeping yourself composed….I see mourning as a way of paying respect to life.
Come to terms with the fact that you will never again be fully physically comfortable. Enjoy the times you are comfortable enough. Acceptance is not passive – you have to work at it by continually trying to face reality rather than thinking reality is something other than what it is.
Recognize the difference between what you want and need. Your need to feel connected to other people is as vital to human survival as food, water, and shelter.
If you are ill, you can experience more freedom to be who you really are and want to be because you now have nothing to lose.
Accept your doubts about your ability to achieve any change in your emotional state. But keep trying. You might be surprised.
Learn how to live, you’ll know how to die; learn how to die, and you’ll know how to live.
The best preparation for living fully and well is to be prepared to die at any time, because impending death inspires clarity of purpose, a homing in on what really matters to you.
Finally, the book ends with this short story that invites us to reflect:
There’s this little wave, a he-wave who’s bobbing up and down in the ocean off the shore, having a great time. All of a sudden, he realizes he’s going to crash into the shore. In this big wide ocean, he’s now moving toward the shore, and he’ll be annihilated. “My God, what’s going to happen to me?” he says, a sour and despairing look on this face. Along comes a female wave, bobbing up and down, having a great time. And the female wave says to the male wae, “Why are you so depressed?” The male says, “You don’t understand. You’re going to crash into that shore, and you’ll be nothing.” She says, “You don’t understand. You’re not a wave; you’re part of the ocean.”