A young man reconnects with his old university mentor after more than 15 years. Unfortunately, his mentor, Morrie, is slowly dying of a fatal, degenerative disease. Rather than lapsing into self pity however, Morrie chooses to spend what time he has left coming to terms with his mortality. Shared in this memoir is his take on life from the unique perspective of one close to death.
How to cope when the going gets tough
It is fine to feel sorry for yourself, but put a limit on it.
“I don’t allow myself any more self pity than that. A little each morning. A few tears, and that’s all.” I thought about all the people I knew who spent many of their waking hours feeling sorry for themselves. How useful it would be to put a daily limit on self pity, just a few tearful minutes, then on with the day.
Sometimes you have to trust your instinct
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’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling.
Learn how to detach.
Take any emotion, for example love for a woman or grief for a loved one. If you hold back on the emotions – if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through – then you can never get to being attached as you are too busy being afraid of the emotion. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what grief is. You know what love is. And only then can you say, “All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognise it. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.”
Same for loneliness: you let it go, let the tears flow, feel it completely – but eventually be able to say, “All right, that was my moment with loneliness. I’m not afraid of feeling lonely, but now I’m going to put that loneliness aside and know that there are other emotions in the world, and I’m going to experience them as well.”
The failings of a modern, consumeristic culture
Don’t forget to take a step back and look at the big picture
Our culture doesn’t encourage us to think about such things (what if today is my last day on earth) until you’re about to die. We are so wrapped up with egotistical things, career, family, having enough money, meeting the mortgage, getting a new car, fixing the radiator when it breaks – we are involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going. So we don’t get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying ‘Is this all? Is this all I want? Is something missing?’
Love and kindness will make you richer than any number of things you could possibly buy
You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship. Money nor power is a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I sit here dying, when you most need it, money nor power will you the feeling you are looking for, no matter how much of them you have.
On growing old
Growing old is inevitable, so learn to embrace it
I embrace aging. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you are going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you are going to die, and that you live a better life because of it. People who say “oh if I were young again” are a reflection of unsatisfied and unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward.
The meaning of life
Short answer: Love
What are the important questions? They have to do with love, responsibility, spirituality, awareness. And if I were healthy today, those would still be my issues. They should have been all along. The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Love is the only rational act.
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.
Giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it’s as close to healthy as I ever feel. Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.
The extended answer: To best prepare for death
Everybody knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently. We kid ourselves about death. The better approach is to know you are 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 are living.
Do what the Buddhists do. Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, “is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?”
Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.