Learning How to Live
Morrie Schwartz, a former Brandeis college professor, suffered and died from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in 1995. But before his death, Mitch Albom, a former student, visited with Morrie and captured his view on how he saw the world for how it really was in the memoir written by Albom entitled ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.” Morrie’s thoughts were unleashed. As Morrie teaches Mitch life’s greatest lesson, there is an essential point that Morrie continuously makes.
“Learn how to die, and you will learn how to live” (83).
People try to live and do as much as they can before they die. They rush to get it all done before they run out of time. However, when you realize that you are going to die you begin to see everything differently and you focus on the essentials of life. It is difficult to think about dying, because, according to Morrie “most of us all walk around as if we’re sleep walking…. doing things we automatically think we have to do.” (82-83). Because Morrie had a deadline on his life, he saw more and more clearly how precious life is and he began to appreciate the simplest things, such as; the color of the leaves changing in the fall. As Morrie explains his point, he tells a story of a wave. This wave was like many of us, he saw the waves ahead of him crashing onto shore and he became very sad. The wave behind him comes along and listens to the first wave cry of how terrible it is that all the waves are going to crash and become nothing. The second wave tells him “No, you don’t understand, you’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean” (179-180). “We are all ‘part of the ocean” as Morrrie sees it. Everyone dies, but if you spend your whole life worrying about death, then you will never get the chance to fully live. Morrie pointed out to Mitch that he should live the way that Morrie was living now, that he should learn how to die, and then learn how to live.
I have not been on my death bed nor have I been told that I was going to die, but I can say I knew someone that was. I used to work at a bowling alley snack bar where a grumpy old bowler, who never seemed to be satisfied by his bowling scores, would stop by for snacks. I treated him with kindness and respect as I did all of the customers, but unlike the rest, he never reciprocated. The weeks passed and I started to notice a change with his attitude, and actually several co-workers noticed this change also. He shared with us one day that he had been diagnosed with cancer and that it was terminal. Suddenly bowling wasn’t about the score or what number his team ranked on the leagues anymore, for him now it was about the fun of the sport and being with friends. He began to treat everyone including myself and co-workers with kindness and respect. He exhibited manners, kindness and he even began to leave tips which he never did before. After about 6 months, we all had a party for him at the bowling alley, and he came up to me (the last time that I saw him) and said to me “you’re a good kid and I’ll miss you. I wish you the best of luck and never take advantage of what you have.” I consider myself to be very fortunate to have seen this man accept death and live his remaining days in happiness. I believe that I can relate personally to the point that Morrrie was trying to make.
I interviewed my mother, who is nearly 56 (a very young 55), to notate just how she reacted to the phrase, “Learn how to die, and then you will learn how to live.’ She responded by saying that “‘learn how to die, and then you will learn how to live’ is a phrase I consider easier said than done, especially for young folks. This phrase/thought might be more accepted by middle-aged or folks who are ill.” I asked her to explain why she felt that way. She responded, “When I was younger, I was too busy to think about my own demise and the thought of death never really even crossed my mind. My youth was filled with fun, ambition, adventure and of course, the usual drama.” She further stated, “however, now that I am older, at the awesome age of 55, the death word seems to creep into my subconscious, as now I must think about wills, life insurance policies, and what-if’s. I also find myself thinking about how I might be remembered when I do go.” Her Father and my grandfather died at the age of 84 two years ago. My Mom then stated, “I often think about what he was thinking before he died. Was his life fulfilled and did he do everything he wanted to do (I think he did).” Both my mother and I agree that her Dad/My Grandfather died well loved, lived an incredible life, and his life was difficult at times, but fulfilled. I asked my Mother if there was anything that she would like to change about her life. Her response was “yes. Not everyone loses a mother at the age of 17. I would like to change that because that changed my entire life.” She stated that she “thinks about how she communicates with other people and is more careful not to say the wrong thing. This is a difficult task with the many social barriers we face in our society. It isn’t easy, but I try.” My Mother voluntarily added that she compared the topic to the lyrics to country singer Tim McGraw’s song “Live like you were dying.” In this song, McGraw states that he “became a friend a friend would like to have, and all of a sudden going’ fishing wasn’t such an imposition, and I went three times that year I lost my Dad.” “Well, I finally read the Good Book, and I took a good long hard look, at what I’d do if I could do it all again.” She stated that in this day and age, it is difficult to find the time to realize what we have and really take the time to appreciate it too. Also, too often, we do not share this wisdom until it is too late. She ended by telling me, “as long as you keep thinking about it, there is hope and life might be better for all.” She had an interesting view of Morrie’s point of learning how to die to learn how to live.
I once read a book entitled ‘The Bucket List’ by Justin Zackham. In this book there were two men that met in a hospital after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Carter Chambers was a mechanic and Edward Cole was the owner of the hospital they were in. Together the men made a list of everything they wanted to do before they died and they called it their ‘Bucket List’. Carter and Edward chose to try to do everything on their list before they died. Morrie however chose to spend time with friends and loved ones and appreciate everything he had always had. Carter and Edward were in the same position as Morrrie they all had deadline on their life. However even though their situations were similar, you could see the difference, Edward and Carter tried to learn how to live, but Morrie, was learning how to die. These men were put in the same situation but it ended differently for all of them. While Edward and Carter live all they could before they died, Morrie learned how to die thus he fully learned how to live.
As Morrie taught Mitch life’s greatest lesson, there was an essential point that Morrie continuously made. Learn how to die, and then you will learn how to live. There are many views and opinions of that phrase whether its relating it to my own life, asking someone else what they think or comparing it to a similar story, I feel that everyone stops to think about Morrie’s saying and it makes them want to do exactly what Morrrie wanted people to do, learn to die so that they may learn how to fully live.
Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson. New York, NY: Broadway, 2002. Print.
Zackham, Justin. The Bucket List. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Pictures, 2006. Print.