Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
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Tuesdays with Morrie is a beautifully written book by Mitch Albom. On the writer’s part, this book deals with Erikson’s identity versus role confusion stage of psychosocial development. This book is a result of partly an effort to compensate for the guilt of not being able to fulfill the perceived duty or responsibility towards friends and families and partly an effort to find identity within the competitive and ambitious self. The primary character (Morrie) is living the final days of his life with integrity.
Morrie is dealing with his own upcoming, overtly anticipated death. Mitch, having dealt with the death of his uncle, and near-death of his estranged brother due to cancer, takes every opportunity to talk to Morrie to find meaning in his own life. Morrie has fewer regrets in life, and wants to reach to as many people as he can to communicate his opinions about life, and what matters the most at the end of the life. Morrie concludes compassion, forgiveness, love, support and care for each other are more important than expensive car, big houses and unlimited wealth.
Despite his parents’ request to study law or medicine, Mitch graduated from the college aspiring to become a musician. He moved to the New York City with the same ambition. Mitch’s parents had a lawyer and a physician as his possible self. On the other hand, Mitch had created a different possible self of himself- a successful musician. Even after trying hard for a while, he wasn’t able to make things fall into his tray. In the mean time, he saw his uncle die from pancreatic cancer at a very early age. He saw failure, pain, and death all at once; and realized he wasn’t immune to these things. Actually he felt them very close, and time was running out before he could do anything to defeat them.
Mitch gave up his possible self, and studied journalism to become a sports columnist. He had a possible self who was surrounded by fans, and chased by reporters. Instead, he took an occupation that made him chase the celebrity players, research about them, and make his living talking about them. He worked hard and became successful in terms of money and fame. He forgot about his promises, old friends and teachers. He traveled the world, appeared on televisions, did many interviews, wrote lots of columns, and occasionally wondered if people will stop their lives if he stops writing columns. When the union went on strike, and he couldn’t publish articles, he was amazed to see the world move on as it did before. He constantly searched for his identity within the fame and success he had earned.
Morrie Schwartz, a former sociology professor of Mitch, is suffering from a life threatening illness known as ALS. He has already lost his legs to the disease, and is expecting the disease to ascend up to his hands, chest, neck and finally choke him to death. Morrie lacks two of the five domains of competence in the competence-environmental press approach. His physical health is deteriorating, and he is less mobile due to lack of motor skills on his lower limbs. However, Morrie remains competent in cognition, perception, and ego strength. He has a supportive network of family and friends who surround him most of the time. After doing the first television interview, the letters and phone calls he receives each day from people all over the world are also adding to the environmental press on him.
On the most part, Morrie seems to be happy with his life, and his achievements. He is proud of his work as a teacher, enjoys being addressed ‘coach’, speaks of highly about his marital life and family, and maintains a good circle of friends and well-wishers. He says he doesn’t regret being seventy something because he had a time when he was young. We can safely say that Morrie is living his last phase of life with integrity. But I don’t think this book is a life review. Except for the writer’s narration of Morrie’s past life, his parents, and the jobs at mental health centers, Morrie doesn’t talk much about his past except at the end when he mentions his old friend Norman who died before Morrie could reconcile with him. He mentions that he can’t forgive himself for being stubborn. But he states that rather than regretting for our mistakes, we need to forgive ourselves and others because it keeps peace with others.
He teaches the lessons of life, perhaps from his own life experience but there are very few incidents mentioned in the book that suggest that his lessons are the products of his own life circumstances. Unlike many other people in his condition who will spend their days and night in despair and hopelessness, Morrie maintains a positive attitude towards life, and is ready to accept the inevitable. He appreciates small favors others do for him, learns to enjoy the dependency when he is not able to care for himself. He regrets that he has little time left not because he is unsatisfied with his past but because he will be leaving his loved ones sooner than he would like to. Like any other human being, the thought of death sometimes gives Morrie a ‘down time’. But his positive energy (subjective well-being) and the environmental press revitalize him, and keep him going another beautiful day.
Morrie was born and raised in a Jewish family, and attended the religious temples when he was a child. As an adult, Morrie adopted no particular religion but mixture of everything. He followed and quoted at times some Buddhist philosophical views ( the example of talking to the bird on the shoulder), some Christian and some Jewish philosophy. He believes in doing the right thing, showing compassion, spending more time with the family, loving each other, being humble, and helping people in need. After his last interview with Koppel, Morrie says that the disease will take his body not his spirit. He also mentions of god and says he is bargaining to be an angel. This shows that Morrie, during the last stage of his life, was utilizing spirituality to help him cope with his own death.
From the very beginning in the college, Morrie served as mentor for Mitch. They spent hours discussing the topics covered in their class and even those not covered but relevant to life. He guided and helped Mitch to write the thesis that acted as a base for the career he later chose. Morrie encouraged Mitch to pursue the dream of becoming a musician because he believed in Mitch’s passion for it. Morrie taught Mitch the unforgettable lessons of life when Mitch visited him sixteen years later in his death bed. He counseled Mitch about importance of family, friends, and non-tangible things in life. Mitch struggles with his own feelings of guilt for going after the materialistic world that Morrie considers useless. Mitch mentions of Morrie as a person who saw a precious jewel in him, and polished the jewel to make it shine.