On a recent road trip, I was binge-listening to Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcasts, and an episode came on called, Mitch Album: The Dying Know the Secrets to a Good Life. I was immediately reminded of my teenage years when I fell in love with his book that they were discussing, Tuesdays with Morrie. The podcast aired in 2017 in honor of the 20 year anniversary of this book filled with inspirational life lessons he learned from his dying friend and former professor, Morrie Swartz.
The following week, I found my old paperback copy, dusted it off and re-read Tuesdays with Morrie with just as much joy, gratitude and revelation as I recall having nearly two decades ago. Summaries of the book often focus on the fact that Morrie is dying of ALS, and if you are anything like me, this would be an immediate turnoff…I don’t want to think about death, let alone read about it. However, I can’t emphasize enough how impactful the insights from someone like Morrie – a man who is full of charisma, humor and loveable quirks – can be to anyone who reads this.
Some of my favorite takeaways from the read are highlighted below (along with my personal interpretations of the selected quotes). Yet, this book (especially for such a quick read) is full of many more lessons than are touched upon here and serves as a beautiful reminder that life is delicate. Time passes quickly, and eventually, one way or another we all die.
“Everyone knows they’re going to die… but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”
“To know you’re going to die, and to be prepared for it at any time. That’s better. That way you can actually be more involved with your life while living.”
We would do things differently. That line hit me like a freight train. I can think of about a half dozen things I would do right now if I knew today was my last day here. Call a friend I haven’t made time for in months, greet everyone with a huge smile to let them know they are important, write a love letter, call my parents, spend time in the forest connecting with the trees, dance to all of my favorite songs, definitely eat dessert and perhaps most importantly, reach out to friends to tell them all the things I love about them (because most likely, I never told them before). We tend to take time for granted and, therefore, don’t always put our best selves forwards.
To the quote above, Mitch askes Morrie, how one prepares for death, to which Morrie responds:
“Do what the Buddhists do. Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that askes, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?”
Am I being the person I want to be? No, I’m not. The person I want to be would have already done those things listed above and not because I was informed that my time was ending, but because it is important to show people we care about them, tell them loving things, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I am planning to explore a waterfall today and dance later tonight so a couple of things that are dear to my heart are already in check, but I digress. This exercise is a beautiful reminder to bring our best versions of ourselves forward every day.
“You can’t substitute material things for love…”
In my personal experience of moving from a city to a ski town, I noticed that the culture of wanting more material things didn’t change, it just shifted focus. It shifted from sportscars and shoes to the most souped-up trucks and latest ski or bike gear. “These people were 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.” Who else is guilty of this? When I am feeling blue, I absolutely want to shop. Honestly, pretty clothes make me happy, but that’s not what matters in this short life, at all. What matters much more are relationships, friendships, human connection, the feelings, laughter, and the love we give and receive. When I give or receive love with people I care deeply for, it feels better than buying a new dress.
Morrie was the type of person that made everyone feel special by the way his face lit up when he saw them. I strive to be more like that. I am a rather private, introverted person, but my goal is to be more like Morrie, especially with friends and acquaintances. I want people to know what they mean to me and I occasionally struggle with simple things, like smiling.
A genuine smile in my direction goes a long way, but when people come into my place of work and tell me to smile, I find myself fighting the urge to stab their hand with a pen. That said, I’m starting to practice. I tried it out on a stranger the other day at the supermarket, a cashier with her head down. “Good morning!” I said in a chipper tone that even surprised me. She looked a little startled but softened when she saw me smiling. We chatted about the daffodils I was purchasing (apparently, she used to have quite the garden of them), and when I left, she cheerfully wished me a good day. I smiled as I went, realizing I just watched someone’s energy shift within seconds simply by putting a little love out there.
“Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever 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.”
This was not a quote from dying Morrie, it was a quote from young Morrie, teaching trust falls in one of Mitch’s college classes. The first girl who didn’t hesitate to fall backward closed her eyes. When you see yourself falling with eyes wide open, you try to stop yourself, but when you close your eyes, you remember that someone is behind you, and you surrender to trusting that they will catch you. I enjoy this message about trust, but specifically that you cannot always believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. Sometimes when I feel unsure about something, I close my eyes and try to tap into intuition without my brain getting in the way. Trusting your intuition can help you trust yourself, and then others, and they, in turn, will trust you too.
“People are only mean when they’re threatened… and that’s what our culture does. That’s what our economy does. Even people who have jobs in our economy are threatened, because they worry about losing them. And when you get threatened, you start looking out only for yourself.”
The next time you find yourself being mean to someone, ask yourself what it is about them that is threatening you. If it’s not them, what is it? Are you taking out anger on someone who doesn’t deserve it because you are responding to a different situation where you felt threatened? Think of any situation where you have felt insecure and how something as simple as a reminder can make you feel unpleasant. And if someone is mean to you, remind yourself of this as well. Cruelty is often a response mechanism. How many victims of abuse become abusers themselves? Recognizing the origin of threatening feels may help end a cycle.
“Love wins. Love always wins.”
Morrie explains to Mitch about the tension of opposites and how life consists of a series of pulls back and forth, “You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn’t. You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted.” Mitch compared it to a wrestling match and askes which side wins? Morrie’s answer, highlighted above, brings joy to every cell in my body.
Through Morrie’s wisdom, readers are reminded that the important things in our lives are human connection, love, appreciating nature, forgiveness, how you treat others and dancing (OK that last one was more for Morrie, and myself – but for everyone it should be that activity that sets you free). These beautiful elements of our existence are the foundations of some of the best lessons in this book.
Yet, much like death, and the fact that we all will one day die, we often ignore these truths to go on creating lives with mixed priorities and agendas. Thankfully, this isn’t the type of book that preaches or makes me feel inadequate about the choices I have made in my life, it’s the type that inspires me to be a better person. I hope you give it a read and find similar inspiration.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
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