Arts and Entertainment

“A Teacher to the Last”

A review of the true story of “Tuesdays with Morrie” narrated by Mitch Albom reveals the affectionate conversations between an old college professor who suffered...

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It was a bright, crisp summer day, and I was bored, so I went to one of the many bookshelves in my house to search for a book. I rummaged through a short, wooden bookcase in the corner, not expecting to find much. However, I came across a small book with an off-white cover and red border. It was titled “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom and seemed pretty boring beyond that. I was about to put the book down, but the peculiar subtitle on the cover, “an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson” caught my eye. Thinking that there was no harm in reading just a few pages, I turned to the first page.

In this novel, I found a heart-warming true story about a sociology professor named Morrie Schwartz, who was diagnosed with ALS, a fatal disease that weakens one’s muscles. The story is told by Albom, Morrie’s student in college. Albom narrates the conversations he has with Morrie every Tuesday after Albom reconnects with him sixteen years later. The book is told mostly in chronological order, with a couple of past memories sprinkled in between.

Though this may seem like a lack-luster summary, the uniqueness of “Tuesdays with Morrie” stems from the topics of the two’s conversations—the essential life lessons. These lessons cover a range of personal topics such as a fear of aging, emotions, regrets, death, and marriage. The conversations approach these topics in an empathetic and transparent manner. For example, when talking about emotions, Morrie says, “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” With limited time left in his life, Morrie disregards any urge to suppress his emotions, which is the social norm. He argues that most people are uncomfortable when people yell or weep in public because they shy away from vulnerable and personal displays of emotion. Morrie knows from personal experience of loving his family and fearing his disease that fully embracing his emotions is the only way to let go if need be.

The clarity of these exchanges are apparent through Albom’s direct writing style. Though there is a smaller emphasis on the descriptions of the setting and characters, the personality traits of the people he describes glow brightly in contrast. Every Tuesday he visits Morrie, Albom reflects, “I came to love the way Morrie lit up when I entered the room.” Throughout scenes like this, Albom noticeably excludes the setting or descriptions of texture or color, which could divert focus on Morrie’s personality and the weight of his words.

On one Tuesday, Albom and Morrie discuss keeping up with recent news. Albom reflects on how across the numerous articles he has written and interviewed for in the news business, none of the stories affected him. Yet right after Morrie discusses how he saw a shooting of innocent people on television, he cries. Albom recalls, “Morrie, for the suffering of people half a world away, was weeping.” He describes Morrie’s sympathy with an honest familiarity absent in biographies or new articles. Since Albom knows Morrie and his past experiences so personally, he doesn’t speculate on Morrie’s actions or motivations.

Furthermore, Albom doesn’t omit any mistakes of his or Morrie’s, letting the narration flow naturally. After Albom hears about Morrie’s diagnosis, he calls him asking to visit. Albom states that when he saw Morrie outside of his car window, his old professor beamed at him, but Albom finished taking his business call first. Reflecting on his memory, Albom states that he was not proud of his actions. But this inclusion of his slight character flaw illuminates his later changed values. He later mentions turning off his phone completely for his plane ride to Morrie’s, letting his business calls wait until after his visit.

The inclusion of human mistakes in the novel makes the author’s growth genuine. At the beginning, Albom was uncomfortable with Morrie’s crying, but on the last Tuesday, Morrie had “a fleeting moment of satisfaction” because he made Albom cry during their goodbye. As the Tuesdays pass by, the novel outlines the transition from Albom being emotionally closed to showing his raw feelings. Morrie’s openness helped Albom confront his own emotions and repair the relationship with his brother, ensuring that Albom also lives his life to the fullest.

To provide this emotional depth, Albom uses analogies to tie up the story. In a conversation with Morrie, Albom listens to Morrie’s story about a little wave who was sad after it discovered that it will crash into the shore and become nothing. It was finally told by another wave that it was not a wave, but “part of the ocean.” This cute but deeply philosophical anecdote illustrates how a person eventually dies and returns back into nature and that we are merely little waves “bobbing” in the ocean.

In addition, mirroring his senior thesis in college, Albom describes his visits to Morrie as his last class and the resulting novel his senior thesis. He formats the book in a similar way, including chapter titles like “Taking Attendance,” “The Syllabus,” and “Graduation.” These chapters may seem arbitrary and out of place but they gradually start to gain meaning through Albom’s incorporation of his college memories with Morrie. This analogy beautifully highlights Albom and Morrie’s relationship as student and teacher, while also expressing how Albom still treasures his old teacher’s words.

“Tuesdays with Morrie” is a memoir that offers a unique perspective of aspects of life that people take for granted. Through Morrie’s life, the lucid prose emphasizes the significance of family and loved ones, providing a fresh appreciation of life. All in all, the memoir contains “life’s greatest lesson,” which isn’t as simple or clear-cut as one would expect. As W. H. Auden, one of Morrie’s favorite poets said, “Love each other or perish.”