I’ve had Tuesdays with Morrie on my reading list for a while now, and its number finally came up. Actually, I’d planned to read it over the Christmas holiday and I followed through with that plan despite being very preoccupied with business matters. And I’m glad I did.
I borrowed a copy from a friend who on her 50th birthday, surrounded by friends and family, read aloud from pages 117-18, where Morrie is talking about a misplaced emphasis on youth, and on learning to embrace aging.
“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 so 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…
“And, in addition to all the miseries, the young are not wise. They have very little understanding about life….”
“…Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative you know you’re going to die, it’s the positive you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”
Yes, I said, but if aging were so valuable, why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.” You never hear people say, “I wish I were sixty-five.”
He smiled. “You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. 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. You want to see more, do more. You can’t wait until sixty-five.”
“Listen. You should know something. All younger people should know something. If you’re always battling against getting older, you’re always going to be unhappy, because it will happen anyhow.
That was the first I heard from this book… as I started reading it over the holidays, I hadn’t read terribly far when I put it down and said to myself, “This book is going to make me cry.” It was late one evening between Christmas and New Year’s eve when I got to the bottom of page 188… and I was right. I was explaining this to a friend over lunch the other day, and he responded to the effect that he knew a number of people besides the two of us who were in the category of people who’d read the book with similar responses. Guys. Hey, what should you expect from a book whose many endorsements include M. Scott Peck, Amy Tan, and Robert Bly? This friend with whom I had lunch is part of a small group of friends, peers, and business associates with whom I meet fortnightly, on Tuesdays, over a beer. The group has been running for seven or eight months now, and early on, we just fell into the habit of calling it “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
The foregoing snippets from this book excerpt are of course insightful, and it’s just a sample of the depth insight offered throughout the book, which of course I recommend. It’s the kind of insight that’s I could probably have selected any one of a number of excerpts. As I was reading, I was reminded a number of times of the Stanley Hauerwas lecture I attended recently, how being at peace with dying was a major theme. In fact, last Saturday I was standing on top of a toboggan hill talking about death with a few of the St. Ben’s crowd, talking about this book, about Hauerwas’ lecture, and Robert Capon, iirc. Perspectives on death, necessary just in general, and not because we were at the top of a tree-lined tobboggan run watching the kids shoot down and run back up, returning slower and slower as the event went on. (And btw, if by some chance anyone has audio of that Hauerwas lecture, let me know, as something went amiss with the taping of the event, though it was live cast on the Internet.)
I’m tempted to talk about my recollection of some of my earlier years, how for a long time I couldn’t wait to be older… how for so long I more readily identified with people who were a few years older than I was. I’m tempted to mention how my Tuesday-friend sent an email the other day titled “Good to ponder at the start of 07” which simply asked the question, “Are you satisfied that your life’s work has aligned with your interests and social values?” But overall, I’m just thinking about perspective…
It’s really all about perspective. As I was dealing with a lot of issues crowding my mind over the past weeks, I continued to try and do the only thing one can do when circumstances that suck are crowding in around you… take a wider view. Take as wide a view as you need to in order to make the problems — as big as they may seem — look smaller. You have to be able to see the edges around them, and if you can’t, you keep taking a wider and wider view until the problematic circumstances are only a small part of the whole picture. Keep expanding your view. Yesterday I had one of our staff in my office, telling me how she was feeling overwhelmed by some things, and having trouble concentrating on tasks at hand. “I know something about this,” I said, and she understood. I explained to her about perspective, about the wider view.
“Okay,” she finally said. “But it doesn’t sound easy.”
“It isn’t,” I replied. “You just have to keep working at it.”