Mitch Albom is a best selling author of inspirational and sports’ books, an award winning columnist, a playwright, a noted radio and television broadcaster, a self-taught musician, and an enthused philanthropist.
Mitch started his writing career as a sports’ journalist and columnist in early 1980’s and by 1995 had already won more than 200 honours and awards for his sports writings including two New York Times bestsellers. However, in 1995 he came to know through a television interview that once his favourite teacher Morrie Schwartz’s, a sociology professor at Brandeis University, Massachusetts from where Albom had earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, was now suffering from ALS (a terminal illness also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Reconnecting with his dear professor after sixteen years, it so happens that Mitch comes to visit him every Tuesday when they discuss about various aspects of life and death. While on one hand, these Tuesdays give Morrie’s remaining life a sense of purpose to share his experience of a slowly dying physical body and increasingly sensitised emotional self, on the other, they give Mitch an opportunity to reassess his own values in life. He comes to see these visits as life’s lessons being exchanged between ‘an old man’ and ‘a young man’; ‘a dying man’ and ‘a living man’; ‘a coach’ and ‘a player’– how they used to address each other back in Mitch’s college days when they often took long walks discussing social matters, coincidentally also on Tuesdays. It was during these weekly visits that Mitch got an idea of compiling these discussions into a book and Morrie rightly referred to it as their final thesis together. The book was a breakthrough for Mitch as his first published work on a subject other than sports.
The fourteen Tuesdays go ahead discussing one topic each week starting with life, culture, money, love, family, emotions, and fear of aging, forgiveness and finally death. Morrie’s ability to see through things gives a ‘fresh’ perspective to each of these and his being an effective teacher and communicator enables him to convey these viewpoints through simple yet wonderful aphorisms. Like, putting in view their teacher-student or coach-player relationship Morrie once said “All right, I’ll be your coach. And you can be my player. You can play all the lovely parts of life that I’m too old for now”; or while speaking of life and death Morrie puts forth his realisation as “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live”.
Along with his own feelings, Morrie enriches these exchanges through borrowing teachings from other religions like Buddhist’s and verses from renowned poets as well. Of all the things, most pressing is Morrie’s absolute conviction about the importance of love in life and his belief like a mantra in Auden’s poetic words “Love each other or perish!”. Another significant thought conveyed is to realise that we are all part of nature and not above it. This, Morrie simply explains through feelings of an ocean wave who fears that once it reaches the shore it will crash into the rocks and cease to exist; at this point a second wave reveals to the first that in reality they both are not waves but just a part of the ocean and they will always remain a part of the ocean no matter what form – a wave, a ripple, tranquil waters or a whirlpool.
The dialogues between Mitch and Morrie touch not only societal woes, but also very personal emotions like fear, desire, and forgiving yourself. Morrie almost devotionally indulged in the conversation talks about his perfect day if he was to be healthy again, about how he wished to die, and about what he wishes to become if he is reborn. It was during these conversations themselves that Mitch found the perfect title for this book and Morrie realised what he wished his tombstone to read- “A teacher to the last”.
Morrie Schwartz died in November ’95. Mitch’s idea of the book which was rejected at first by numerous publishers was finally accepted by Doubleday publishers and so he was able to fulfil his wish to pay off Morrie’s medical bills. ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ was published in 1997 initially with 20000 copies. Not only did it reach the top spot of New York Times bestsellers list within six months, it stayed in the list for 205 weeks. The book was later successfully adapted by Albom into a play script and also into an award winning television series produced by Oprah Winfrey. The book has since sold over 14 million copies and has been translated in 41 languages.
Apart from all the literary recognition and success, I believe the most important aspect of the book is its influence on the author Mitch Albom himself. He not only went on to write two more bestseller inspirational books (“The Five People You Meet in Heaven” and “For One More Day”), but also founded three charitable non-profit organisations working towards social causes to embody what Morrie referred to as ‘giving to the community’. Reading through this enlightening work, I, myself couldn’t help stopping on occasions to think about where my own values in life ought to be and where I have placed them presently. I believe it’s this righteous nature of the book that has led to it also being regularly taught at high schools and universities around the world. Altogether a wonderful book, and a must read.