Life’s Greatest Lesson is Often Overlooked

Life’s Greatest Lesson is Often Overlooked

My first reading of Mitch Albom’s inspirational memoir about his revered sociology professor was back in early 2000, at the urging of my then girlfriend (now most treasured wife). The book is Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson. 

Since that first reading, I’ve revisited the now-famous memoir several times over the last 23 years – most recently, last evening. While a short read at around 192 pages, I had never begun and completed my reading all within the span of a few hours. But on this particular night, that’s exactly what happened. 

As I lay in bed reading through the last few pages while my wife slept comfortably next to me and tears now moistened my eyes, I was yet again profoundly impacted by the teachings of Morrie Schwartz. His life’s greatest lesson is so often overlooked in society today – so often forgotten by myself though I’ve read and written about the book countless times before.

Each time I read Tuesdays with Morrie feels like the first time depending on the current circumstances of my life, as new teachings by Morrie Schwartz leave an indelible mark on my heart and mind. And this read was no exception.

“Well, for one thing, the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it.”

For much of the day, after I finished my reading, I was haunted by his statement that “the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves.” His assertion that we should be strong enough to rally against the norm is certainly motivating and encouraging, but simply not sustainable in a world that is constantly chasing the wrong things in life.

On that subject, Morrie says, “There’s a big confusion in this country over what we want versus what we need. You need food; you want a chocolate sundae. You have to be honest with yourself. You don’t need the latest sports car; you don’t need the biggest house. The truth is, you don’t get satisfaction from those things. Do you know what really gives you satisfaction?…Offering others what you have to give…I don’t mean money, Mitch. I mean your time. Your concern. Your storytelling. It’s not so hard.”

But we live in a world unimpressed by the simplicity of what others have to give. The sharing of one’s time, concerns, and stories has been replaced by our addiction to technology and its ability to squander one’s life, overburdened schedules (often self-induced), and an underlying competitiveness always to be better than somebody else. 

Such realities leave many of us to bare the feelings of loneliness and unworthiness, thus supporting Morrie’s notion that “the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves.”

Not so long ago, my life was filled with individuals who understood and supported sharing their time, their concerns, and their storytelling – satisfying relationships with substance and meaning without bias towards one party or the other. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after 48 years, it’s this – nothing is forever, and progress doesn’t always lead to a better life.

Toward the end of the book, Albom asks Morrie what he would do if he had one more good day to live unaffected by his illness, one perfect day. He expected his professor would come up with something lavish and over-the-top, especially given how long he’d been confined to his home after his ALS diagnosis. 

But all Morrie wanted was a normal day with his friends and family – making memories, sharing good food, and having great conversations with the people he loved and cherished most.

Albom says, “After all these months, lying there, unable to move a leg or a foot – how could he find perfection in such an average day? Then I realized that was the whole point.”

Somewhere along the way, as technology has altered our lives in ways many of us never dreamed of, we’ve lost the ability to connect with people – simply, lovingly, and meaningfully. To share an average day with the people we love without being bored by inactivity or relying on excuses as to why we don’t have the time to spare.

In his dying, Morrie taught us all that we’re doing a lousy job of living – consumed by material possessions, status, and power while assigning importance to things that don’t deserve that much value. 

In the end, life’s greatest lesson from Morrie is about love. “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love and how to let it come in. Love is when you are as concerned about someone else’s situation as you are about your own.”

It’s that level of compassion that is missing from our world today, though it’s not impossible to achieve will a little effort.