:: author: Mitch Albom :: published: 1997 :: my rating: 5/5 :: biographical novel :: philosophical fiction :: memoir :: goodreads
This heart-wrenching, poignant novel allows readers to enter into the world of Morrie Schwartz, a professor at Brandeis, philosopher and friend. Filled with short, insightful anecdotes about the meaning of love, life and death, this novel features the wisdom of a man, dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Although Morrie is forced to undergo immense pain due to this unforgiving disease, his outlook and philosophy on life never changes, as his relationships with others flourish and he is able to become an encouragement to many others.
Mitch Albom, accompanies Morrie’s transition to the next life, and in the process, begins to appreciate and understand the importance of relationships and how to achieve a fulfilling life. Although successful by the world’s standards, Mitch struggles to discover the meaning of life as he finds himself feeling empty and devoid of purpose. This all changes the day he sees his beloved professor on the news and decides it is finally time to pay his “coach” a visit he had promised the day he graduated. Thenceforth, a weekly meeting is agreed upon, and classes with Morrie resume, granted in an unconventional manner.
Mitch compiles a list of topics that include death, fear, aging, greed, marriage, family, society, forgiveness, and a meaningful life to his old professor in hopes to attain insight into some of the most contested subjects. The succinct, straightforward nuggets of wisdom Morrie offers can be applied to anyone’s lives and radically transform the outlook many have. Here are a couple of things I learned.
“Forgive yourself before you die. Then forgive others.”
It is not uncommon for those on the brink of death to desperately find peace through renewed relationships. Suddenly, it is essential to reconnect and mend relationships in order to leave in peace. This is a recurring theme throughout novels and movies as the protagonist often embarks on a journey to exonerate themselves or their loved ones. Morrie, approaches the topic of forgiveness through another perspective and especially emphasizes the necessity of forgiving oneself. It is not enough to be kind to others, but to yourself. The mistakes and failures you have made are a part of you and in order to attain true peace, it is vital to forgive yourself and to love not only those around you, but yourself as well.
Not only should one forgive themselves, they need to appreciate the life they are living and to understand the blessings they are granted each and everyday. To seize the moment and to celebrate in even the ordinary.
“Accept who you are; and revel in it.”
After forgiving oneself, it becomes easier to accept who and what you are. To understand your capabilities and limits, and to enjoy yourself within that range. Morrie realized the different abilities of others, and the limited world in which he was now subjected to. Instead of throwing himself a pity party, and swimming in despair, Morrie chose to look outward at those around him in attempts to provide encouragement and advice. It wasn’t as if Morrie felt no pain or heartache, he chose to embrace the unwanted feelings and to acknowledge what he was unable to do.
Unlike many of us today, Morrie accepted his impotency, and permitted others to care for him. By swallowing his pride, Morrie found joy in receiving help. This was only possible through his realization that love is being dependent on one another and being vulnerable enough to allow others to pinpoint your faults.
“Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward.”
Once you accept yourself and your lackings, you enter into a state of contentment and self efficacy. It is at this stage that it becomes possible to accept the past and to look towards the future.When forgiveness of oneself and others is completed, then the past cannot hold one back anymore, and with the acceptance of oneself comes contentment. This permits people to live in the future, and to enjoy life the way everyone out to: in the present.
Death is not something to avoid, nor should it be avoided. The moment one finds their sense of purpose and belonging, there is no reason to turn back with nostalgia or regret. Although suffering physically from ALS, Morrie managed to remain cheerful and embraced the dependency that it brought. Learning to revel in the embrace of others, Morrie realized the immense need for humans to feel and give love. Instead of grieving over his loss of mobility, Morrie accepted his fate, and lived his very best within the bounds of his impairment. He connected with friends, families and strangers, and offered advice to those who were also undergoing difficulties. Despite the hardships he himself had to endure, Morrie chose to focus on the blessings of life and continued to nurture relationships to those near and dear to him.
“If you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down on you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.”
The unending race to the top can easily consume our lives as fame and riches become the focal point in our lives. It is easily to get discouraged in this race, especially when after all our efforts, we look up (or down) and find a myriad of people competing directly against us. Though having grand dreams and high hopes are necessary, Morrie demonstrated the greater fulfillment that is achieved through truly connecting with others. This skill, a mix of undivided attention and eye contact, never disappoints as he even manages to connect with Tim Koppel. (watch their interview here)
Morrie demonstrates the frailty and beauty of life and continues to give well after his death by offering wisdom and insight to the meaning of life, death and all that’s in between.