I HAD the chance to read Mitch Albom’s runaway bestseller “Tuesdays with Morrie” some years ago. Although I came out of the experience with a renewed appreciation for life and the importance of dealing well with others, the lessons the slim volume imparted to me weren’t as poignant the second time around.
In between writing articles at home the other day, my old copy of Albom’s book caught my attention. It had lain for years on the bookshelf together with all sorts of titles.
On a whim, I decided to pick it up and begin to reread its opening pages. Before long, I was again hooked. It was as if I was reading the book for the first time.
Those of you who are familiar with my story probably know why. After having experienced a recent death in the family, Morrie’s words, as relayed to Albom, on such universal themes as death, ageing, family, money and forgiveness sounded so radical yet practical and useful. More often than not, they hit home.
Not only did I approach the experience with a fresh pair of eyes, as I went deeper into its pages, it was as if my late father was talking to me. Strange as its sounds, he and Morrie had a lot in common when it came to dealing with what life throws at you.
Dad’s final weeks
I also got to relive my Dad’s final weeks through Morrie’s experience, including my father’s frustration, gradual deterioration and complete dependence on others. Morrie called it his “wipe-ass” test.
Once you become incapable of doing the most personal things for yourself short of breathing, you suddenly realize how important life is and the freedom a sound body once afforded you. At the same time, you begin to appreciate even more the love and attention being showered on you by friends and loved ones.
In Morrie’s case, he later even relished being fussed over like a child as he lay in bed unable to wiggle even his toes, while ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease continued to ravage his body.
(This true story unfolded over a series of six months, wherein Albom later had a series of heart-to-heart talks with an ailing Morrie every Tuesday of the week.)
Painful and frustrating as it was, the experience gave him new perspectives an otherwise healthy individual wouldn’t have seen or given second notice.
Just looking out from his bedroom window and seeing the colors change with the passing seasons, for example, allowed the wheelchair-bound Morrie to experience utmost joy. As his movements became more restricted, his other senses, particularly his sense of hearing, compensated for the loss. He often found himself being moved to tears while listening to his favorite opera.
It may sound strange, but in a way I was happy to know after having read the book that my father’s harrowing life-and-death experience, including being wheeled later on to the ICU, wasn’t unique.
Although he did suffer and was a shadow of his former self during his final weeks on earth, like Morrie, my Dad, at 83, was able to live a full life with plenty of love, laughter and high moments in between.
I still feel a sense of loss and perhaps will continue to do so until I breathe my last, but in a way I’m also thankful for being privileged enough to spend a fair amount of time with my father.
“Buti ka nga tao ka na when your father left you,” said a friend, who lost her own father months after she turned 18.
Of course, what she meant was, having left me a few weeks after I turned 50, my Dad, unlike hers, was able to help mold me to the person that I am now. I was able to benefit from his advice and examples and see how woefully short I still am in so many ways compared to him. (Dad, don’t worry, I’m still heeding your lessons, as I try to chart my own way while making up for lost time.)
The rereading did make me pause a couple of times, as I contemplate what would happen to me once I reach the end stage. I’m sure life itself would find a way to resolve whatever major kink I find myself in.
But having no family of my own who could look after me, I suddenly realized the importance of having one. In Morrie’s opinion, having children and investing yourself in raising them is the highest form of love and intimacy one can ever experience and give to another individual.
Alas, raising a family and having kids aren’t for everyone. Rather than complicate my life and that of another person, I decided early on for personal and practical reasons to remain single.
To those of you who haven’t had the chance to read the book, I suggest you pick up a copy. To those who have, I will leave you with selected excerpts from Morrie, a “teacher to the last,” as quoted by Albom, one of his favorite students back in Brandeis University. It certainly won’t hurt if, like me, you reread the book again.
I hope, like me, you find useful nuggets of wisdom in the entire experience that would eventually help light your way as you go through with your journey.
“Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”
“The truth is, Mitch, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
* * *
“No one really believes they’re going to die.” Why? “Because most of us all walk as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.”
“The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t for the family. It’s become quite clear to me, as I’ve been sick. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.’’’
* * *
“Say I was divorced, or living alone, or had no children. This disease—what I’m going through—would be so much harder. I’m not sure I could do it. Sure, people would come visit, friends, associates, but it’s not the same as having someone who will not leave. It’s not the same as having someone whom you know has an eye on you, is watching you the whole time.”
* * *
“Whenever people ask me about having children or not having children, I never tell them what do. I simply say, ‘There is no experience like having children.’ That’s all. There is no substitute for it. You cannot do it with a friend. You cannot do it with a lover. If you want the experience of having complete responsibility for another human being, and to learn how to love and bond in the deepest way, then you should have children.’”
On How Love Goes On
“Someone asked me an interesting question the other day…If I worried about being forgotten after I died? I don’t think I will be. I’ve got so many people who have been involved with me in close, intimate ways. And love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.”
“You know what the Buddhists say? Don’t cling to things because everything is impermanent. Detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That’ s how you are able to leave it.”
On Fear of Aging
“As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at 22, you’d always be as ignorant as you were 22. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”
* * *
“If you’re always battling against getting older, you’re always going to be unhappy, because it will happen anyway.”
* * *
“You have to find what’s good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now. Looking back makes you competitive. And age is not a competitive issue.”
“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 you have them.”
* * *
“There’s a big confusion in this country over what we want versus what we need…You don’t need the latest sports car, you don’t need the biggest house. The truth is, you don’t get satisfaction from those things. You know what really gives you satisfaction?…Offering others what you have to give.”
“Things are not that simple. Still, there are a few rules I know to be true about love and marriage. If you don’t respect the other person, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don’t know how to compromise, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can’t talk openly about what goes on between you, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don’t have a common set of values in life, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike.”
“It’s not just other people we need to forgive, Mitch. We also need to forgive ourselves…Yes. 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…Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Don’t wait, Mitch. Not everyone is as lucky.”
For doing what I did and not doing what I should have done (and there are many), I hope you’ve forgiven me, Daddy.