Dying With Spirit--Learning how to Live

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - July 1998

Have you ever wanted a mentor who would validate you and coach you? Mitch Albom had such a mentor in college. His sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, met privately with him every week to ask questions, challenge, encourage, and advise him.

Mitch took many courses from Morrie and met with him throughout his college years. At graduation Morrie asked Mitch to stay in touch. Mitch said he would, but he didn't.

Mitch drifted into a career and pretty much forgot about his old professor until twenty years later. While flipping though television channels late one night in March, 1995, Mitch accidentally ran across Ted Koppel's Nightline program on ABC-TV and was startled to see Koppel interviewing Professor Schwartz in Schwartz's home. Mitch watched intently as Koppel explained that Morrie Schwartz had contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an incurable neurological disease widely known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Mitch remembered Morrie as a vibrant, energetic man, with a happy spirit and full of life. When Koppel asked Morrie how he felt when he was diagnosed with ALS, Morrie said "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."

Mitch knew what he had to do. He had to fulfill his promise.

Morrie was delighted when Mitch called and invited him to visit as soon as possible. It was an emotional reunion. When Mitch hugged his frail old professor, Morrie whispered "My old friend, you've come back at last."

What followed were a series of weekly meetings that Mitch calls his "last class." Morrie had decided he would not withdraw from life, but would make the best of his time left. He walk the final bridge between life and death and narrate the trip to Mitch.

Morrie talked with Mitch about many subjects...feeling sorry for yourself, regrets, death, family, fear of aging, emotions, money, love, forgiveness....

Mitch took notes and knew he wanted to write about what he was learning from this marvelous man who was dying as he had lived--with feeling, dignity, and creativity. Morrie, for example, had been to a funeral of a teaching colleague who had died of a heart attack. Afterward he felt depressed. "What a waste," he said to himself, "All those people saying wonderful things, and Irv never got to hear any of it."

Morrie decided to create a "living funeral" for himself. He invited a small group of family and friends to gather at his home. He said he wanted to hear what they would say at his funeral. They laughed and cried together as each one spoke their tribute. Morrie's "living funeral" was a joyous experience.

Morrie and Mitch decided to have the notes of their conversations published as a book after Morrie's death. Morrie suggested the title. Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom, is an intensely personal book, rich with wisdom from a man who lived all of his life to the fullest. It reveals how two men who loved each other were willing to embrace an emotional journey of discovery together.

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