- "Have I told you about the tension of opposites?"
- The tension of opposites?
- "Life is 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
- "A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band.
And most of us live somewhere in the middle."
Sounds like a wrestling match, I say.
- "A wrestling match." He laughs. "Yes, you
could describe life that way.
- So which side wins, I ask?
- "Which side wins?"
- He smiles at me, the crinkled eye, the crooked teeth.
- "Love wins. Love always wins."
"The culture we have does not make people
feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough
to say if the culture doesn't work, don't buy it." -- Morrie
"So many people walk around with a meaningless
life. They seem half asleep, even when they are busy doing
things they think are important. This is because they're chasing
the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is
to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your
community around you, and devote yourself to creating something
that gives you purpose and meaning." -- Morrie
"You see," he says to the girl,
you closed your eyes. That was the difference. 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 are in the dark. Even when you are falling."
- "Everybody knows they are going to
die," he said again, "but nobody believes it. If
we did, we would do things differently."
- So we kid ourselves about death, I said.
- "Yes. But there's a better approach. 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 in your
life while you're living."
"The fact is, there is no foundation,
no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it
isn't 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 supremely important. As our great poet Aulden
said, "Love each other or perish.'" -- Morrie
- "Okay this is fear. Step away from
it. Step away."
- I thought about how often this was needed in everyday life.
How we feel lonely, sometimes to the point of tears, but we
don't let those tears come because we are not supposed to
cry. Or how we feel a surge of love for a partner but we don't
say anything because we are frozen with the fear of what those
words might do to the relationship.
- Morrie's approach was exactly the opposite. Turn on the
faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won't hurt you.
It will only help.
- Morrie always made good peace. At Brandeis,
he taught classes about social psychology, mental illness
and health, group process. They were light on what you'd now
call "career skills" and heavy on "personal
development." And because of this, business and law students
today might look at Morrie as foolishly naive about his contributions.
How much money did his students go on to make? How many big
time cases did they win?
Then again, how many business or law students ever visit their
old professors once they leave? Morrie's students did that
all the time. And in his final months, they came back to him,
from Boston, New York, California, London, Switzerland; from
corporate offices and inner city school programs. They called.
They wrote. They drove hundreds of miles for a visit, a word,
"I've never had another teacher like
you," they all said.
"The truth is, when our mothers held
us, rocked us, stroked our heads-none of us ever got enough
of that. We all yearn in some way to return to those days
when we were completely taken care of-unconditional love,
unconditional attention. Most of us didn't get enough."
"All this emphasis on youth-I don't buy
it," he said. "Listen, I know what a misery being
young can be, so don't tell me it's great. All these kids
who came to me with their struggles, their strife, their feelings
of inadequacy, their sense that life was miserable, so bad
they wanted to kill themselves "
"Wherever I went in my life, I met people
wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble
up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And
then they wanted to tell you about it.
what I got? Guess what I got?"
how I always interpreted that? These were people so hungry
for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing
material things and expecting sort of a hug back. But it never
works. You can't substitute material things for love or for
gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.
"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 feelings you are looking for, no matter
how much of them you have."
"Part of the problem, Mitch, is that
everyone is in such a hurry, " Morrie said. "People
haven't found meaning in their lives, so they're running all
the time looking for it. They think the next car, the next
house, the next job. Then they find those things are empty,
too, and they keep running."
Once you start running it's hard to slow yourself down.
"Well I feel sorry for your generation,"
Morrie said. "In this culture, it's so important to
find a loving relationship with someone because so much
of the culture does not give you that. But the poor kids
today, either they're too selfish to take part in a real
loving relationship, or they rush into marriage and then
six months later, they get divorced. They don't know what
they want in a partner. They don't know who they are themselves-so
how can they know who they are marrying?"
He sighed. Morrie had counseled so many unhappy lovers
in his years as a professor. "It's sad, because a loved
one is so important. You realize that, especially when you're
in a time like I am, when you aren't doing so well. Friends
are great, but friends are not going to be here on a night
when you're coughing and can't sleep and someone has to
sit up all night with you, comfort you, try to be helpful."
Charlotte and Morrie, who met as students, had been married
44 years. I watched then together now, when she would remind
him to take his medication, or come in and stroke his neck,
or talk about one of their sons. They worked as a team,
often needing no more than a silent glance to understand
what the other was thinking. Charlotte was a private person,
different from Morrie, but I knew how much he respected
her, because sometimes when we spoke, he would say, "Charlotte
might be uncomfortable with me revealing that," and
he would end the conversation. It was the only time Morrie
held anything back.
"I've learned this much about marriage," he
said now. "You get tested. You find out who you are,
who the other person is, and how you accommodate or don't."
- Is there some kind of rule to know if a marriage is going
- Morrie smiled. "Things are not that simple Mitch."
- I know.
"Still," he said, "there are 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. And if you don't have a common set of values,
you're gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be
- "And the biggest of those values, Mitch?"
- "Your belief in the importance of your marriage."
- He sniffed, then closed his eyes for a minute. "Personally,"
he sighed, his eyes still closed, "I think marriage
is a very important thing to do, and you're going to miss
a hell of a lot if you don't try it.
He ended the subject by quoting the poem he believed in
like a prayer: "Love each other or perish."
- Morrie believed in the inherent good of
people. But he also saw what they could become. "People
are only mean when they are threatened," he said later
that day, "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 are worried about losing them.
And when you get threatened, you start looking out only for
yourself. You start making money a god. It's all part of this
He exhaled, "Which is why I don't buy into it."
Here's what I mean by building your own little subculture,"
Morrie said. "I don't mean you disregard every rule of
your community. I don't go around naked, for example. I don't
run through red lights. The little things, I can obey. But
the big things- how we think, what we value-those you must
choose yourself. You can't let anyone-or any society-determine
those for you.
"As long as we can love each other, and
remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever
really going away. All the love you have created is still
there. All the memories are still there. You live on-in the
hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you