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A Response to Tuesdays with Morrie

By Lydia Penner

Morrie: In His Own Words cover graphicI FINISHED READING the inspirational book Morrie: In His Own Words (Life Wisdom from a Remarkable Man) this week and, in the hope of deepening our viewing of Tuesdays With Morrie, I thought I'd let you all know a bit about it. It was originally titled Letting Go by Morrie Schwartz himself. Probably in the wake of the success of Tuesdays, it was renamed in 1996.

The introduction to the book, written by one of his students, states that Morrie wanted to teach his greatest lesson - "how to flush death out of the closet, and how to help people talk openly about illness, decay and the end we all share." His response to his death sentence was to steep himself in life. He watched all the humour he could find, he let friends know he wanted them to visit and he began writing the aphorisms that became the core of his wisdom.

At first he thought the aphorisms could simply stand on their own. But as he wrote them, he realized they needed some background, context and elaboration for people to benefit more fully from them. He wrote more and more unsteadily as his disease progressed, and the final chapters were spoken to a friend who wrote them down. But his conviction only increased. Talk about living a meaningful life.

I think that whereas the movie focused on the loving relationship between mentor and teacher, and conveyed Morrie's personality, this book brings out some of the deep, practical wisdom gleaned from his illness. Since we're all on the path towards death, and hopefully ego-death in the meantime, the lessons he teaches are very relevant. Reading the book while I was sick myself (though, of course, not as gravely as he was), became an experience of being encouraged to "let go", as the original title suggested. His compassion and wisdom was very evident throughout the book.

As an example of the relevance of Morrie's wisdom, here are some of his simple thoughts on courage:

Dealing bravely with physical pain or accidents takes one kind of courage. Facing life as it is and accepting it requires another....I have found courage through seeking thoughtfulness, openheartedness, detachment, and other responses that make up a composed life and a calm response to illness....I hope that I can continue in this way to the end so that  I die with inner peace.

Morrie's book was written for those dying of a terminal illness and chapter titles include "Living with Physical Limitations," "Grieving for Your Losses," and "Reviewing the Past." The book, however, completely transcends the "death and dying" category, and is apt for all of us who are faced with our limitations. I think the quotation Arthur Paul Patterson found, "Simplicity on the other side of complexity", fits Morrie's book exactly. I'd recommend it highly.

Schwartz, Morrie. Morrie: In His Own Words. New York: Dell Publishing, 1997. 144 pages.

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