Morrie Schwartz

Excerpted from "Tuesdays with Morrie" An Old man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson By Mitch Albom. 1997. Doubleday ISBN 0385484518. Available in hard cover; large print, and audiocassette (4 cassettes, 3 hours).

August 1994, Morrie and his wife, Charlotte, went to the neurologist's office, and he asked them to sit before he broke the news: Morrie had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Lou Gehrig's disease, a brutal, unforgiving illness of the neurological system. "So I'm going to die?"  Yes, you are, the doctor said. I'm very sorry.

ALS is like a lit candle: it melts your nerves and leaves your body a pile of wax. Often it begins with the legs and works its way up. You lose control of your thigh muscles, so that you cannot support yourself standing. You lose control of your trunk muscles, so that you cannot sit up straight. By the end, if you are still alive, you are breathing through a tube in a hole in your throat, while your soul, perfectly awake, is imprisoned inside a limp husk, perhaps able to blink, or cluck a tongue, like something from a science fiction movie, the man frozen inside his own flesh. This takes no more than five years from the day you contract the disease.

He sat with Morrie and Charlotte for nearly two hours, patiently answering their questions. When they left, the doctor gave them some information on ALS, little pamphlets, as if they were opening a bank account. Outside, the sun was shining and people were going about their business. A woman ran to put money in the parking meter. Another carried groceries. Charlotte had a million thoughts running through her mind: How much time do we have left? How will we manage? How will we pay the bills? Shouldn't the world stop? Don't they know what has happened to me?

But the world did not stop, it took no notice at all, and as Morrie pulled weakly on the car door, he felt as if he were dropping into a hole. Now what? he thought.

As the disease took him over, day by day, week by week. He backed the car out of the garage one morning and could barely push the brakes. That was the end of his driving. He kept tripping, so he purchased a cane. That was the end of his walking free.

He went for his regular swim at the YMCA, but found he could no longer undress himself. So he hired his first home care worker a theology student named Tony who helped him in and out of the pool, and in and out of his bathing suit. In the locker room, the other swimmers pretended not to stare. They stared anyhow. That was the end of his privacy.

Morrie's doctors guessed he had two years left. Morrie knew it was less.

Morrie made a profound decision, one he began to construct the day he came out of the doctor's office with a sword hanging over his head. Do I wither up and disappear, or do I make the best of my time left? he had asked himself. He would not wither. He would not be ashamed of dying.

Instead, he would make death his final project, the center point of his days. Since everyone was going to die, he could be of great value, right? He could be research. A human textbook. Study me in my slow and patient demise. Watch what happens to me. Learn with me.

Morrie would walk that final bridge between life and death, and narrate the trip. Morrie's' Words To Live By

A philosophy professor at Brandeis University who realized and shared his views on life while dying of ALS. Schwartz was interviewed several times by Ted Koppel on "Nightline", and he is the subject of the New York Times bestseller "Tuesdays With Morrie" by Mitch Albom. Schwartz himself wrote a book before he died called "Letting Go" Morrie's Reflections on Living While Dying.

Spend your life here investing in people, making memories, having good times with them and sharing yourself, then you never really do go away. I mean, you're not physically here, but you know, you're here, you're up here. But if you spend your time working and you spend your time trying to make money, you don't make those memories, you don't live on inside somebody after you're gone.

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