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An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson
We featured this book on our list of most inspirational books ever written, and we never got the chance to summarize it for you.
Time to right that wrong.
Join us on a few unforgettable Tuesdays with Morrie.
Who Should Read “Tuesdays with Morrie”? And Why?
As its subtitle suggests, Tuesdays with Morrie is about a relationship between a dying old man and an unhappy young man – a professor and a former student – “and life’s greatest lesson.”
And this lesson covers topics such as love and happiness, marriage and friendships, regrets and loss – and, ultimately, death.
In other words, that’s not a hyperbole in the subtitle: you may, in fact, learn life’s greatest lesson from this book.
And neither are the ones in the following two sentences: everybody should read Tuesdays with Morrie; because Morrie’s lessons can certainly change your life.
Let’s just say it this way: we would have loved to have Morrie as our professor; and, in a way, after finishing this book, we kind of feel like we did.
About Mitch Albom
Mitch Albom is an American journalist, author, screenwriter, musician, and TV and radio broadcaster.
He made his name as a sports columnist for Detroit Free Press, becoming one of the most award-winning sports journalists of his time. In fact, the Associated Press Sports Editors awarded him best feature writing honors 7 times and named him the nation’s best sports columnist a record 13 times!
His first non-anthology book was simply titled Bo, an autobiography of football coach Bo Schembechler, co-written with him. The book went on to become a New York Times bestseller, just like his second book, Fab Five.
However, the real breakthrough for Albom came after Tuesdays with Morrie was published in 1997. One of the bestselling memoirs of all time, the book remained on the New York Times bestselling list for over four years, an unprecedented success for a book of its kind. Unsurprisingly, the book was turned into an eponymous TV movie, the most watched television film of 1999.
Six years after Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom published The Five People You Meet in Heaven, another resounding success. Once again, it became a television movie in 2004, which, once again, was the most watched TV film of the year.
Five more books followed: For One More Day, Have a Little Faith, The Time Keeper, The First Phone Call from Heaven and The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.
Albom has so far founded several charities both in Detroit and Haiti.
“Tuesdays with Morrie Summary”
Mitch and Morrie, 1979
Tuesdays with Morrie opens with a college memory.
Mitch Albom, the book’s narrator, tells us what happened after his 1979 graduation from Brandeis University. After receiving his diploma, Mitch gifts his favorite professor Morrie Schwartz a monogrammed briefcase.
It is more than a token of gratitude; it is a token of love and respect. And it comes with a promise: Mitch assures his moved-to-tears professor that he will keep in touch no matter what happens.
Sixteen years later, we find Mitch living a mediocre and unfulfilling life.
But if you think that means that he is some unsuccessful schmuck without a job and someone to care for him – think again. Or, better yet, read his biography above.
If you don’t want to scroll up, then let us tell you what’s happening with Mitch in the year of 1995. In a sentence: he is a 37-year-old well-paid nationwide-famous sports writer with a loving wife (Janine) and a pretty hectic schedule.
Since he’s always on the road on reporting assignments, he doesn’t’ have that much time for his wife; and, even though he has promised her children, he never seems to think it’s the right time to have them.
All in all, he’s living the life you probably dream about until you actually start living it.
And one night, as he is disinterestedly flipping the channels on his TV, Mitch happens upon a show featuring none other than his favorite college professor! It’s a Nightline interview with Ted Koppel – the first of three – and it both astounds and saddens Mitch.
And here’s why:
You see, from the interview, Mitch finds out that Morrie has been diagnosed with ALS, which is short for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which, in turn, is a technical term for something more widely known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
If you still don’t know which debilitating disease we have in mind, then it’d suffice to say that we’re talking about the disease Stephen Hawking suffered from.
Let’s make that even more heartbreaking for you: Morrie’s favorite hobby – as he tells Koppel on the Nightline interview – is dancing.
Mitch and Morrie, 1995: The First Meeting
Mitch is overwhelmed with memories and feelings.
Soon, he contacts Morrie and decides to visit him in Boston. More specifically: West Newton, Massachusetts.
Their first meeting?
Well, a bit anticlimactic.
Namely, Mitch delays greeting his professor – i.e., someone who has effectively changed his life with no interest to get anything in return – because of a phone talk with his producer.
He still regrets this. But he regrets nothing since.
Mitch’s Sobering Wimbledon Experience
You see, shortly after Mitch’s first meeting with Morrie – at the time, all but planned to be the last as well – Mitch is sent on a reporting assignment to London. It’s the end of June 1995, which can only mean one thing: it’s time for some Wimbledon action.
However, Mitch can’t stop thinking about Morrie and their first discussion. And, one day, as he is knocked over by a crowd of reporters racing to catch a glimpse of then celebrity couple Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields, he suddenly realizes that he is on the wrong place chasing the wrong thing.
It’s Morrie he needs to be with.
And it’s Morrie he calls the minute he arrives in Detroit and finds out that the newspaper union is on strike and that his report from Wimbledon isn’t even going to get published.
Soon, the arrangement is made: Mitch will return to Morrie’s house every Tuesday until Morrie is able to talk, and they will discuss the things that really matter.
The last lesson. The most important one.
So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy 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.
Morrie Schwartz, 1916 – 1995
Throughout Mitch and Morrie’s discussions – extending over a period of fourteen Tuesdays – we get a glimpse of both Morrie’s life and their relationship during the college years.
And we learn that life wasn’t that generous to Morrie.
The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he was a poor, but precocious child. Since his father didn’t know how to read and his brother David was an infant, when he was merely eight years old, Morrie was forced to read aloud the telegram informing the family of his mother’s death.
Morrie’s father, Charlie Schwartz, was incapable of providing him and his younger brother David in no manner whatsoever: neither financially, nor emotionally. Which made the next two years of Morrie’s life a bit hellish.
Finally, his father remarried, this time to a Romanian woman by the name of Eva. Fortunately, she was kind and gentle and managed to provide both Morrie and David with the love and care they desperately needed. Unfortunately, David developed polio at a young age and this left him paralyzed.
Morrie’s father didn’t want David to find out that Eva is not his biological mother, so he forced Morrie to keep this a secret. Morrie would keep the telegram with the news of his mother’s death all his life so as to not forget that his mother existed.
In adulthood, Morrie married an MIT professor named Charlotte, who bore him two sons, Rob and Jon Schwartz. Charlotte caries for him in a compassionate, motherly manner.
It seems as if now, as Morrie is nearing his death, he is becoming a child again. Only this time, he is given the love he wasn’t during his actual infancy.
Mitch as a College Student
Though acting tough, Mitch himself was a tenderhearted young man while at Brandeis University, with a profound capacity to love and a sincere need to be loved.
Even though merely a student of Morrie, Mitch always saw in his professor something of a father figure. And their relationship – as exemplified by the farewell gift – resembled father/son relationship much more than a professor/student one.
In a heartbreaking moment, when Morrie is barely capable of moving – or even breathing – on his own, he confides in Mitch that if he could have another son, he would undoubtedly want that son to be Mitch.
The Main Lesson
An overarching element of Morrie’s lessons is his attempt to encourage Mitch to brave the wilderness inside him and find a unique path of his own:
We’ve got a sort 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 things 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 fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.
In the eyes of Morrie, the world has gone astray and become just too materialistic. People believe that money and success bring happiness, and they don’t know that when death comes neither of these two matters not one bit.
What does is love and kindness, integrity and compassion.
A life which doesn’t have these as objectives is a life not worth living.
Inspired by Morrie’s words, Mitch tries his best to restore his relationship with his brother Peter.
Peter is living in Spain and suffers from pancreatic cancer, but doesn’t want compassion or help from his family.
So, Mitch tries to reach him, calling his brother and leaving him numerous messages; the only thing he receives is a short message from Peter stating that he is fine and that he doesn’t want to talk about his disease.
Morrie assures Mitch that his relationship with Peter would eventually be restored; we don’t know if Morrie knew something we don’t, but we do know that after his death, this really happened.
Death Is Not the End
Eventually, Morrie dies.
At his funeral, Mitch recalls promising him that he will never stop talking with him.
Unlike his graduation day promise, this is one that he still keeps. Namely, whenever in trouble or doubt, Mitch Albom conducts a silent discussion with his beloved professor in his head.
To this very day.
It seems that Morrie was right about this as well: “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
Key Lessons from “Tuesdays with Morrie”
1. Enjoy Your Emotions to the Fullest
2. Don’t Ever Settle for Substitutes
3. Love Each Other or Perish
Enjoy Your Emotions to the Fullest
The first time Mitch sees Morrie cries, he feels a bit uncomfortable. “It’s okay to cry,” says Morrie. Soon enough, Mitch learns that he is entirely right.
Because why should you hide from your emotions? If you are sad, why shouldn’t you cry? And if you are in love, why shouldn’t you give all your heart (we’re looking at you, W. B. Yeats)?
These are cathartic experiences and one day, you’ll be unable to do either.
So, open yourself. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
It may be awkward at first, but it pays off big time in the end!
Don’t Ever Settle for Substitutes
If there’s one thing Morrie is fed up with, it’s modern culture.
“Wherever I went in my life,” he tells Mitch at one point, “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?’”
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.
Love Each Other or Perish
This is Morrie’s paraphrase of the most famous verse of W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”: “We must love one another or die.”
It’s not exactly a choice is it?
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“Tuesdays with Morrie Quotes”
Our Critical Review
Tuesdays with Morrie has sold almost 15 million copies so far, and has been translated into more than 40 languages. It is widely considered to be one of the bestselling memoirs of all time – if not the bestselling memoir in history.
It has been taught at many schools worldwide, whether American high schools and universities because of its messages or Asian primary schools because of its straightforward, simple writing.
The movie it inspired, the Oprah-produced 1999 ABC feature by the same name, won four Emmy Awards and was the most-watched TV movie of 1999. Starring Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria, the movie (you can watch it in full here) will almost certainly bring a tear or two in your eyes.
But that’s nothing compared to the effect the book may have on you.
We dare you to not cry at the heartbreaking farewell; and we dare you to go on living the same mediocre life you do (yes, believe us, you do) after finishing Tuesdays with Morrie.
It’s a book that stays with you.
A book everybody should read.