Tuesdays with Morrie is a moving account of Mitch Albom’s last days with his old dying professor. On Tuesdays, they take up the final project of Morrie’s death, to study, watch, and learn together. As they “walk that final bridge between life and death,” Morrie narrates the trip on the subject of “The Meaning of Life,” taught from Morrie’s own experience. This profoundly wise book, as inspired and influenced by the dying Morrie Schwartz, sheds much light on what really matters in life. What follows is what I hope to be a biblically faithful interaction with and evaluation of selected themes from Tuesdays with Morrie.
One very important thing to note while interacting with this book is that “Morrie borrowed freely from all religions.” Though he was born Jewish and became an agnostic as a teenager, “he enjoyed some of the philosophies of Buddhism and Christianity, and he still felt at home, culturally, in Judaism.” So, Morrie viewed the world and all its meaning through multi-philosophically colored lenses. Knowing this will help to more empathetically understand where he is coming from.
Do What the Buddhists Do
All throughout their last hours together, Morrie encourages Mitch to always be thinking about death. Here, he instructs his pupil to, “Do what the Buddhists do.” That is, “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?’” This ethical instruction reveals much wisdom in and of itself. As Moses himself prays, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90.12). In other words, he asks, “Give me a sense of how short my days are on earth, that I may live more wisely.” Morrie’s next statement sounds quite similar: “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” What does he mean by this? Basically, that if we believe that we are really going to die anytime, “we would do things differently.” And, elsewhere he tells Mitch more pointedly, “If you accept that you can die at any time, then you might not be as ambitious.” James shares like-minded wisdom for the overly ambitious: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (4.14-15). Morrie advises a better approach: “to know you’re going to die, to be prepared for it at any time.”
As gripping as Morrie’s ethical instruction is, he does not answer why we are to prepare ourselves for death at any time. The questions he asks, such as: ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?,’ seem to point toward an underlying sense of duty or of a future judgment. Yet, Morrie does not speak about a Creator and Judge to whom we are accountable. Without a reason to be prepared for death at any time, his instruction for living is noble but fruitless in the end.