Henry David Thoreau suggested in 1854 that we should read the best books first, because we don’t know how much time we’ll have to read them. “Tuesdays With Morrie” is short enough that you can read in an afternoon, but I live by the lessons imparted in this book every single day of my life.
“Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, and gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.
Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded. Wouldn’t you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you?
Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man’s life. Knowing he was dying of ALS – or motor neurone disease – Mitch visited Morrie in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final ‘class’: lessons in how to live.”
Mitch Albom has given us some extraordinary looks at ourselves, and in “Tuesdays With Morrie”, he has some help from a gifted educator and friend. The kind of professor that I myself was lucky to have, and a teacher I wish for everyone.
Morrie gave all his students in the 60’s A’s so they couldn’t be drafted to fight in Vietnam, and I think that’s pretty goddamn cool. When you’re dying, all the unimportant garbage (like wars and greed) just falls away. As Christopher Hitchens says, “the thing about stage 4 [cancer], is that there is no stage 5.”
You find that you no longer time for, or interest in, superfluities.
I take notes on everything that I read, and I LIVE by those notes. When I read something that deserves my full attention and spurs new insights, I make sure it gets written down in my notes.
As with many of my posts here at Godlike Discipline, these thoughts come directly and indirectly from the book in question. I feel that there is immense value here that I want to pass on to you.
So here is Morrie Schwartz and I, doing our best to impart important lessons.
Thanks to his sage advice, and my own leanings, I have vowed never to trade my dream for a bigger paycheck. There have been many times when I could have, and did, and I’ve always regretted it when I wasn’t strong enough to say no to the temptations of society.
It’s stifling, and you’ll come to realize that it’s just not worth it. Another spectacular book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, elaborates on some of the most common regrets of people who are about to die.
Number one…NUMBER ONE…is that they wish they had the courage to lead a life that was true to themselves, and not the life that other people expected of them.
You will absolutely regret not being able to live authentically, and dying people are the best teachers when it comes to this stuff. Their retrospective knowledge is penetrating, and we ignore their words at our peril.
They know from sometimes bitter experience that a suit and tie can be prison clothes. Morrie said that you have to be strong enough to say: “If the culture doesn’t work, I won’t buy into it.”
YOU KNOW I’M RIGHT
There is a huge knowledge vs. action gap that prevents people from attaining happiness, if it is indeed something that can be “attained”.
People know what to do, but they don’t do it.
You yourself know that all of these great teachers are right when they tell you to live intensely, to treat others as if it were THEIR last day, to pursue your dreams relentlessly.
And yet the majority of people don’t do it. Or they go about it in some sort of haphazard way.
When a great teacher lays down a great truth, you need to act on it. Every day of your life. Do whatever you can to keep their words in front of your face at all times. Never let the path fade.
I re-read my most important notes EVERY SINGLE DAY.
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We all get dragged down by our fast-paced, modern lives, so we need to be conscious about taking time out to remind ourselves of what is really important.
LOVE AND DEATH
Everybody knows that they are going to die but no one believes it.
Indeed, I’m quite sure that people in the army always feel sorry for the other people in their ranks who might die, but they feel fairly confident, at least subconsciously, that it will never be them.
But death is the great equalizer, in that no one is immune. We are all living amongst the causes of death, and it can happen to any one of us at any moment. Worse still, we have to live with the constant knowledge that at some point in the future, we definitely WILL die.
The great task of our lives is to come to terms with our own death, and help others do the same.
As Rumi says, “we are all just walking each other home.”
Everyone you meet in the street today is going to die. Everyone you have ever known and cared about. Those people, in turn, will lose everyone and everything that they have ever loved. So why would we want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?
In the end, things go on without you. But all the love you created is still there.
So the choice becomes: “Love each other or perish.”
I didn’t want to go on and on about every little wise thing that was said in the book. I’ll assume that you lead at least a moderately busy life, or that maybe you’d prefer to take a short quote that you can think about on your own time. So here we go:
1) Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live
2) If you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward.
3) Trying to show off for people “above” you or “below” you is pointless because they will either look down on you or envy you anyway
4) Gandhi: “Every night when I go to sleep, I die. In the morning when I awake, I am reborn.”
5) People are only mean when they’re threatened
6) We all have the same beginning and the same ending
7) Death ends a life, but not a relationship
8) Pay attention when your loved ones are speaking
And so we come to the end. Morrie eventually died, succumbing to his ALS. I don’t know where he is now, or if there is anything that still exists in the universe that could be identified as “Morrie Schwartz”. I don’t know what happens after death, and neither does anyone else, no matter how convincing they appear.
If I was to impart one major lesson from Tuesdays With Morrie, it would be perhaps that it is best to make peace with living.
Struggle is fruitless, and our short term here can be incredibly satisfying and pleasant and loving if we so choose.
There’s a story I quite like, and it goes like this:
A wave was getting closer to the shore and became scared that he was going to die. “Once I crash into that sandy beach, I’ll be destroyed!”, the wave said. But another, older wave, followed him and told him not to worry. “You’re not just a wave”, he said, “You’re part of the entire ocean.”
Morrie and I are similar in that we can luxuriate in simple pleasures and be blissfully happy, even when nothing but a slight breeze is blowing against us.
Like Morrie says:
“I’m just really into breezes”
All the best,
Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.