Confronting Aging

I had signed up to substitute teach yesterday and today for an English/language arts teacher at the middle school. While I was working another job earlier in the week, he made it a point to come find me. In order to teach his eight-graders, I was going to have to prepare, so he gave me homework — read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.

I had heard about this book years ago, but had never read it. Some quick research found 13,977 ratings on Amazon, 87% of them five-star. Only one percent were one-star, and many of those were about physical problems, like pages out of order or missing. I considered that high praise.

I wasn’t disappointed. Briefly, Morris “Morrie” S. Schwartz was an American professor of sociology at Brandeis University. He was the kind of teacher who made an impression; he became the favorite professor of author Mitch Albom, who promised to keep in touch after graduation.

Except he didn’t. Then came a chance viewing of a Ted Koppel interview on the TV news program “Nightline.” Morrie was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease). The interview shocked Albom into renewing their friendship, which led to a series of trips to visit Schwartz in the final weeks of his life, always on Tuesday (“We’re Tuesday people.”)  The result was this book, relating their conversations over fourteen visits, supplemented with experiences from both their lives. The original purpose was to generate some revenue to help pay Morrie’s medical bills, which had to be astronomical in his final months as ALS robbed him of any means of independence. Then it became a best-seller.

Fortunately, the book is an easy read; I finished it in about four hours (to the surprise of the eighth-grade class members, who are reading it about twenty pages at a time). I found it easy to relate to since I’m in the same decade as Morrie’s last — he eventually died November 4, 1995 at 78. Although I have yet to confront a serious health crisis, I’m already forming my own exit strategy — I’m thinking when it’s time to depart, I’ll realize it and be ready; Morrie never seemed ready.

The book contains many gems of wisdom about both living and dying, so much so that I had to resist taking a highlighter to the school’s copy. And since the paperback copy had to stay at school, I’m simply going to encourage you to read it for yourself. It contains wisdom for any age.

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