The bond between a teacher and student is one of the longest lasting relationships in existence. Connections like that of a father and son, general and soldier, mother and daughter, and even boss and employee shape more of who we are than we are ever likely to admit. Even through the midst of separation, either defined in time or location, a teacher’s guidance is never lost. Whenever hard times hit their voice will run through our head, old images that were forgotten will return, and we will remember the unique way they showed us their sincere love.
If you’re one of my older readers you may recall the release of one of the nineties best-selling self help books entitled Tuesdays with Morrie. The book, which was written by journalist Mitch Albom, follows the story of the author’s old college professor Morrie Schwatrz’s diagnosis and ordeal with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. As the disease progresses the brain loses the ability to control muscle movement eventually leading to paralysis. In the average 2-5 year span people deal with the illness, the body becomes weaker and weaker until its primary organs shut down and the person dies.
This terrible news happens at a time when Albom has long forgotten about his mentor. Despite promising to keep in touch after graduation, Mitch quickly throws away many of his professors’s teachings getting swept into the world of work and raising a family. It’s not until Albom sees his old friend on a special NBC Nightline episode do the memories come flooding back and the urge to reunite with his mentor returns.
When Mitch sees his professor again for the first time in 15 years, he is afraid of the repercussions rekindling this relationship could ignite. Albom has always been a reserved man, and Morrie was always trying to make him express his feelings. If his old professor finds out he has been living a lie these past years, who knows what Morrie will think of him. But as the two sit down inside Morrie’s cozy, brick-laden, suburban home warm feelings instantly return. Mitch is amazed at his mentor’s acceptance of his impending fate and entranced by his presence, simplicity, and compassion.
Intending to only see Morrie once, Albom soon finds himself making weekly visits to his old friend every Tuesday. And during each visit the two men discuss a list of subjects, of Mitch’s own creation, on things every person would like clarification on before they die. Each passing week, as Morrie’s condition deteriorates and he goes from using a wheelchair and eating solid foods to being confined to his study and fed a slurry of mashed up goo, the author gets his old teacher’s thoughts on life’s biggest questions. Topics like death, fear, aging, greed, marriage, family, forgiveness, and even society are all on the chopping block.
As Mr. Schwatrz gets closer to his end, the reader sees a profound change in Albom, he has opened up. Once uncomfortable just sitting in the room with his dying friend, Mitch enjoys caring for his old professor by massaging decayed muscles and helping him get the phlegm out of his lungs when he goes into one of his extended coughing fits.
Of all the imagery in this book, my favorite involves the last meeting between Mitch and Morrie. On his last visit, Albom enters the house to find his mentor at his weakest yet, confined to bed with stubble grazing his face. All throughout the book Morrie is adamant about doing as much for himself as he can. Even as his condition deteriorates and he is forced to accept help for the simplest of tasks, he continues to his old adage of, “When you’re in bed, you’re dead.” Now, barely able to speak and with nothing left to do but die, Albom is left with one of life’s greatest truths staring him in the face.
It’s an insightful look at culture’s preference of shooing the old and dying away not to be seen so we can continue living our superficial lives. That's why I give it 9/10 stars. It's truly one of the best told stories I've ever read.