You can make life beautiful
Review by Roopinder Singh
Tuesdays with Morrie, an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson
by Mitch Albom. Doubleday, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney and Auckland. Pages 192. $ 6.99
“SO many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
This quote of Morrie Schwartz rather aptly sums up the situation we find ourselves in all too often. Tuesdays with Morrie is a fine book. It is a part of the final lesson taught by Morrie Schwartz, an old professor of social psychology, to a student who is no longer a pupil in the technical sense of the term, but will always remain a favourite apprentice to the man who shaped his academic life 20 long years ago.
Now the young man is a successful journalist, has been voted America’s No 1 sports columnist 10 times by the Associated Press Sports Editors, and has written best sellers, “Bo,” about Bo Jackson, the American football and baseball star, and “Fab Five”, about a University of Michigan basketball team.
He runs his life and schedules with computer-like precision and has all the trappings of such a life — gizmos, lack of time, rushing from one place to another, multi-tasking (the practice of human beings named for the computer term describing a machine’s ability to run several programmes at once), everything that makes him lose touch with all that gives meaning to life.
Mitchalbom sees his former teacher on television and finds out that he is dying and this makes him pause. Morrie Schwartz is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, (ALS), a brutal, neurological illness. Albom makes an impulsive decision to meet his former teacher and connect with him. This begins the story of lessons that will last far longer and have a far greater impact than all the academic lessons taught by Schwartz and attended by the likes of Albom.
“Morrie had always been taken with simple pleasure, singing, laughing, dancing. Now, more than ever, material things held little or no significance. When people die, you always hear the expression “You can’t take it with you,” Morrie seemed to know that a long time ago.
“We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on in our country,” Morrie sighed. “Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning thing is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it and have it repeated to us over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so flogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.
“Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. “Guess what I got? Guess what I got?”
“You know how I always interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.
“Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.”
Mitch Albom glanced around Morrie Schwartz’s study. It was the same today as it had been the first day he arrived. The books held their same places on the shelves. The papers cluttered the same old desk. The outside rooms had not been improved or upgraded.
Doesn’t this sound familiar? The above-mentioned quote is from “Tuesdays with Morris, an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson” by Mitch Albom. Simply written, the book explores the relationship between a teacher and the taught, of how teaching can extend far beyond the confines of an academic institution.
Haven’t we imported the American crass materialism without the work ethic that makes it possible for people in America have what they want? In India, a liberalisation seems to be bringing in. A kind of terrible laissez faire; everything goes provided you can get away with it. Do any of us ever think of the kind of toll of our personal and consequently our general social fibre?
With break-up in marriages becoming something we not only just read but increasingly feel through the experiences of our friends and members of our social circles, Morrie Schwartze’s rule about love and marriage makes a lot of sense: “If you don’t respect the other person, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don’t know how to compromise, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can’t talk openly about what goes on between you, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don’t have a common set of values in life, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike.
“And the biggest one of those values, Mitch?”
“Your belief in the importance of your marriage.”
We all assume the roles of students and teachers at different times in our lives. For equipping ourselves with a kind of a handbook to deal with the exigencies that arise when we seek to take up these roles, one would definitely recommend Tuesdays with Morrie, and since Prof Morrie Schwartz is no more, his conversation with his pupil would be one American experience that would enrich lives globally. As the Professor says, “Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too —even when you’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling.”
Correct fundamentals are the basic building blocks of a good life. Morrie Schwartz has the knack of breaking down life’s complexities into fundamental truths. And Mitch Albom knows how to pen them down in the right manner.
This review was published in The Tribune on April 29, 2001