I’ve made a new friend this year whose son-in-law has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS — Lou Gerhig’s disease) described in this book as “a brutal, unforgiving illness of the neurological system” with no known cure. I read this book several years ago — before I knew anything about ALS, let alone anyone who had it. Suddenly, as my friend was sharing about what her family was going through, I remembered this extremely touching, poignant book, and thought, “I should get a copy for her; maybe it will help.” I couldn’t remember the title. I knew it was something to do with Tuesdays. A quick search online brought it up, and I ordered it fastest possible delivery as I thought I should reread it first and make sure it was something that would help.
I found I had really remembered very little other than that a young man had been very close with his professor at university, and, although he promised to stay in touch after graduation, he hadn’t. Then one night he was channel-hopping, and caught his “coach” on Nightline with Ted Koppel. Morrie Schwartz, a sociology professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, was talking about how he was coping with ALS. He told Ted and his audience,
. . . when all this started, I asked myself, ‘Am I going to withdraw from the world, like most people do, or am I going to live.’ I decided I’m going to live — or at least try to live — the way I want, with dignity, with courage, with humor, with composure.
And that’s what he did! This man who had inspired so many students, had loved music, and loved to dance was slowly losing his muscle control. First, was the need for a cane. Shortly after he was diagnosed, Morrie entered his classroom of 30 years, slowly making his way to the front with his cane, and sat down to tell his students there was a risk in taking his class this term — he might die before it was over. When he attended the funeral of a colleague, using a wheelchair by now, he thought, “What a waste, all those people saying all those wonderful things, and Irv never got to hear any of it.” So Morrie gathered some friends and family together one Sunday afternoon for what he called “a living funeral.” They laughed, they cried, told stories, and paid tribute, and it was “a rousing success.”
Mitch made a phone call after watching the Koppel show, and went to pay his “coach” a visit. It was the beginning of what became known to both Mitch and Morrie, as his final course — how one faces death — with a class of one! Mitch retells the story interspersed with flashbacks to memories (chapters in italics) from his childhood, teen years, university life with Morrie, and his post-graduation life until the memories merge with the times he spent on Tuesdays as he watched his coach become more and more dependent, less able to stand the pain, and unable to so much as move his own head an inch or two. Mitch’s own life had become one of fevered pace, usually doing 5 things at once, jetting around to cover sports events, writing for newspaper, magazines, and doing television; he knew he was no longer the same student Morrie remembered. But, the affection was still there, and a new chapter began.
Despite his approaching death, it seemed to Mitch that Morrie was clear about everything in life that was important, and what was not. Morrie always said Mitch could ask anything, so after his third Tuesday visit, Mitch made a list of things he wanted to get clear about, certain that Morrie would be able to help him find that clarity. He wrote, “Death, Fear, Aging, Greed, Marriage, Family, Society, Forgiveness, A meaningful life.” They discussed all this — and religion, and afterlife, being with someone “in the present,” and, how to say goodbye. It was an opportunity for Mitch to re-examine his life — choices he made, dreams he bartered away for things. It was a way to say goodbye.
This edition marks the 10th anniversary of the first publishing and contains an afterward from Mitch. It has been printed in “dozens of countries . . . and translated into many languages,” made into a movie and performed as a stage play; it has become curriculum in many colleges and universities, and can be found in “funeral homes, hospices, churches, [and] synagogues.” I’m glad I reread it. It is full of wonderful, gentle wisdom — not just for dying, or coping with the death of a loved one, but for living, and for living fully. There are many more things I could tell you about this book, but the main thing is that reading it will inspire you, and bless you. It will enable you to live well. * * * * *