Jay Gatsby. Elizabeth Bennett. Albus Dumbledore. Bridget Jones. The BFG. And now, Morrie Schwartz.
We all have literary heroes; these are mine. These are the characters I fell in love with upon reading their words, and following their stories. Part of their charm always lies in the fact that they are fictional however, which makes sense really because they are almost too good to be true. This is certainly what I considered of the titular character of my latest read ‘Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson.’ Imagine my surprise when, having finished the story – and having loved every part of it – I learnt that Morrie was in fact a real person, the story a memoir.
‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ is an inspirational and truly touching story of a retired college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who reconnects with an old student of his, Mitch, who went on to pen this memoir to his beloved teacher in what you might call his final paper for a course of Morrie’s. After being diagnosed with ALS (the same degenerative disease which affects Steven Hawking) Morrie conducted an interview on national current affairs show Nightline in 1995, leading Mitch to reconnect with his old professor 16 years after saying goodbye at graduation. A weekly Tuesday visit turns into a series of lessons about all of life’s most important things, as the formidable Morrie faces his life’s end not with dread or fear, but with a grace, openness and sense of humour that is more inspiring than almost anything I have ever read before.
This story, or rather Morrie himself, poses the big questions we all ask, and those we don't want to. How does one come to terms with death? How can we best live our lives? What is the purpose of it all? What if we have regrets?
Reading it, I took notes, folded pages (I’m one of those) and made highlights as I always do, but this time more than ever. There are so many quotable gems of wisdom in there, from this gem of a man. So many beautiful ideas about how we can do this thing called life in the best way possible, not only for ourselves but for all the people who are part of our world. One of my favourite quotes in the book is re-told below, in one of Morrie’s interview on Nightline, and the best thing about watching this for me was, he tells it exactly as I imagined. His all-knowing yet delightfully cheeky smile is just like you imagine, not through any description, but through the words he spoke, the words we read.
Through these words and the lessons they teach, Morrie has remained a teacher until the end, even beyond his own end. Thank you, Morrie Schwartz, for the humbling lesson that I have the sneaking suspicion will stay with me, and make me face my days with a little more optimism than before. Grateful.
“Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.” – Morrie Schwartz