Last Tuesday’s film screening of Alive Inside with the Bassett medical students reminded me of a book I read in high school called, Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. Tuesdays With Morrie is the final lesson between a college professor, Morrie Schwartz, and one his students and author of the book, Mitch Albom. Morrie was an exceptional professor, and retired only after he began to lose control of his body to ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease. This memoir chronicles their last time together, through which Albom’s shares Morrie’s last gift to the world, his wisdom.
The glorification of youth in America has created an atmosphere of narcissism. To be young is to be attractive, healthy, vigorous, and fully alive. Old age, on the other hand, is associated with decline, loss of independence, disease, disability, loss of youthful beauty and death rather than wisdom, inner peace, and other positive qualities. Ageism is manifested through stereotypes and myths about old people and aging, since many people have limited contact with vibrant old people and lack of knowledge about the aging process. Instead, many today view the elderly as only a reminder of our own mortality
Many of us have looked up to someone older than ourselves, rather it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague, or an older sibling. Someone who understood us and helped us to see the world in a new way, through their guidance and advice. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor. Morrie serves as a lasting example that people who are aging and near death still have value to add to the world, that they are alive inside and not static as many of us have come to believe. Morrie when faced with death choose to react against popular cultural norms and accept his own debilitating disease and imminent death. He continued to live his life to the fullest, even while facing his own exit from this world.
In Tuesday’s With Morrie, Morrie said, “Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it…. So we kid ourselves about death…. But there’s a better approach. To know you’re going to dies, and to be prepared for it at any time….Do what the Buddhists do…ask, Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?” Our nation’s fear of death paralyzes us, and has caused us to lose sight of the value in our elders. We have placed many of them in nursing homes, where their ageing and imminent death is out of sight and out of mind. This act of displacement dehumanizes the people we should be looking to for wisdom and guidance today. Morrie said it best, “We put our values in the wrong things. And it leads to very disillusioned lives.” We have put our values in youthfulness over ageing, which has lead to a decline in the unity of our nation. Instead we should engage in dialogue about this issue, sharing what we know about living and dying. We are all going to go through life and death, so why not share our knowledge about these things together? You just might inspire someone to live life to the fullest, like Morrie Schwartz.
“When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
~ Morrie, Tuesdays With Morrie