One of the most beautiful books I have read on the lifelong relationship between a teacher and student is Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. The book covers the lessons a teacher, Morrie Schwartz, dispels to his old student, Mitch, during the final months of his life being brought down by a terminal disease.
Knowing he was dying of ALS – or motor neuron disease – Mitch visits Morrie in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turns into one final ‘class’ – in how to live.
Among the many lessons I have learned from the book, here are the best eight that I share with you today on the occasion of Teacher’s Day. Each lesson you read below is verbatim from the book.
Over to Morrie.
1. On living a meaningful life
“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.”
2. On kindness
“The problem is that we don’t believe we are as much alike as we are. Whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, men and women. If we saw each other as more alike, we might be very eager to join in one big human family in this world, and to care about that family the way we care about our own.
“But believe me, when you are dying, you see it is true. We all have the same beginning — birth — and we all have the same end — death. So how different can we be?
“Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.
“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?
“But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well.”
3. On what survives after death
“Last night … I had a terrible spell. It went on for hours. And I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it. No breath. No end to the choking. At one point, I started to get dizzy … and then I felt a certain peace, I felt that I was ready to go.
“It was a most incredible feeling. The sensation of accepting what was happening, being at peace. I was thinking about a dream I had last week, where I was crossing a bridge into something unknown. Being ready to move on to whatever is next.
“That’s what we’re all looking for. A certain peace with the idea of dying. If we know, in the end, that we can ultimately have that peace with dying, then we can finally do the really hard thing.
“[Which is] make peace with living.
“It’s natural to die. The fact that we make such a big hullabaloo over it is all because we don’t see ourselves as part of nature. We think because we’re human we’re something above nature.
“We’re not. Everything that gets born, dies. [But] as long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on—in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
4. On forgiveness
“It’s not just other people we need to forgive…We also need to forgive ourselves…for all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done. You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened. That doesn’t help you when you get to where I am.
“I always wished I had done more with my work; I wished I had written more books. I used to beat myself up over it. Now I see that never did any good. Make peace. You need to make peace with yourself and everyone around you.
“Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Don’t wait. Not everyone gets the time I’m getting. Not everyone is as lucky.”
5. On love
“In business, people negotiate to win. They negotiate to get what they want. Maybe you’re too used to that. Love is different. Love is when you are as concerned about someone else’s situation as you are about your own.”
6. On the real source of happiness
“If you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down at 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.
“…giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it’s as close to healthy as I ever feel.
“Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.”
7. On the most important thing in life
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man … said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.’”
8. We’re part of the ocean
“I heard a nice little story the other day,” Morrie says. He closes his eyes for a moment and I wait.
“Okay. The story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air — until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.
“‘My God, this is terrible,’ the wave says. ‘Look what’s going to happen to me!’
“Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, ‘Why do you look so sad?’
“The first wave says, ‘You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t it terrible?’
“The second wave says, ‘No, you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.’ ”
I smile. Morrie closes his eyes again.
“Part of the ocean,” he says, “part of the ocean.” I watch him breathe, in and out, in and out.
Please read Tuesdays with Morrie if you haven’t already. If you have, it’s time to re-read it.
Happy Teacher’s Day!