| Tuesdays With Morrie: A Reflection |

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Sometimes, it seems as though we travel through life on autopilot, determined to get to a destination that society mandates as our next move. I think of a chess game: The ultimate goal is to journey to the other side of the board. Migrate forward, keep your eye on the target. Stop anyone in your path that threatens your success. Strategize.

We move like our pawns. We are conditioned to believe that money buys happiness. We set our sights on careers, prestigious positions at the pinnacle of the corporate ladder. We go to school and take on crippling student loan debt. We study hard and earn our degrees. We start small and work our way to the other side of the board. Put our time in. Power through the grind with the idea that our time will come, our pursuits will one day be rewarded. For many, that happens.

We swipe left and right to find eligible suitors, like and follow potential allies. Gravitate toward those who, we feel, play by the same rules of the game. We put ourselves out there, vulnerable to whatever extent we feel comfortable with. We answer questions, we ask them in return. We define our identity and if we find a match in someone else, we move forth together. Pursue the end of the board. Some unions multiply. Others drift.

Always, those same mechanical movements.

You know what I fear? I fear being the pawn that pushes through the grind with no reward in sight, twenty, thirty years later. Someone who is suddenly fifty and cursing wasted time. What if happiness does not in fact grow from nurturing that money tree? What will become of me as I am sitting alone in a huge house wondering, “What now?”

What if I cannot start a family after months, years of trying? A baby registry is already built on Amazon and a crib is sitting out in the garage, waiting to be occupied- but what does my life look like if I cannot conceive? What is the point in plugging along if I haven’t stopped to appropriately put a pulse on my current reality?

At what point do I press the pause button, abandon the merry-go-round of societal norms, and consider deeply, my own fate? Look at the board beyond my own chess pieces? Strategize on a grander scale? Or hell, just bask in the glory of moving at my own pace for a few moments, feel the freedom and power of standing still?

For months, years even… I have been pushing forward on the chess board, movements heavy at times with the weight of the world on my shoulders. I have been galloping ahead on a pristine white porcelain horse, spinning in circles while having a good time. Has life been good to me thus far? Yes. Although always in motion, the fruits of my labor have served me well. My pursuits toward human connection have been matched with others who desire lifelong companionship. We now move forth, together.

But we are still all moving. All galloping, trotting, walking down the straight and narrow path.

My question tonight is this- What if, instead of walking, we did more resting? More… dare I say this- digging? Surveying the ground beneath our feet? What if we crouched down to feel the texture of the sand, allowed it to exfoliate our hands as each pebble slipped through our fingers?

These are all questions that the book “Tuesdays With Morrie” prompted me to consider. I wrote a quick blog post about the book itself, a surface-level synopsis of the “runaway bestseller” that has now sold 14 million copies and has been translated into 45 languages, but in doing so, I promised myself a thoughtful, more thorough reflection.

And here we are.

Thirty-four pages and just six short chapters in, my highlighter made its debut. Mitch, a young man in his thirties and no stranger to the grind, posed the question, “What happened to me?” for the first time. He was in conversation with his own mentor, Morrie, but the lighthearted probing felt more like an interrogation.

“Have you found someone to share your heart with?”

“Are you giving to your community?”

“Are you at peace with yourself?”

“Are you trying to be as human as you can be?”

Mitch shifted and squirmed as he grappled with such questions, knowing that although his days were full, he remained, much of the time, unsatisfied.

Morrie, a dying old man with so much wisdom left to share, sparked something in Mitch. “Dying is only one thing to be sad of, Mitch. Living unhappily is something else. So many people who come to visit me are unhappy; The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves, for one thing. We’re teaching all of the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say that if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it.”

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they are busy doing things they think are important. This is because they are chasing the wrong things. 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.”

I loved all of Morrie’s sentiments, but there was one chapter that really moved me, clung onto me even after I turned to the last page of the book.

One Tuesday, Mitch and Morrie turned on the tape recorder and began sifting through the notion of emotions. “Detachment,” Morrie explained, is important not only for someone like me, who is dying, but for someone like you, who is perfectly healthy. Learn to detach.”

“You know what the Buddhists say? Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent. However, detachment does not mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it.”

Mitch questions this and Morrie explains further. “Take any emotion- Love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going through, fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on the emotions- if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them- you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.”

“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 pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then you can say, ‘All right, I have experienced that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.’ ”

Mitch internalized this idea in his writing: “I thought about how often this was needed in everyday life. How we feel lonely, sometimes to the point of tears, but we don’t let those tears come because we are not supposed to cry. Or how we feel a surge of love for a partner but we don’t say anything because were frozen with fear of what those words might do to the relationship.

Morrie’s approach was exactly the opposite. Turn off the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you, it will only help. If you let fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, “All right, it’s just fear. I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is.

Same with loneliness; you let 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 am going to experience them as well.”

Digging.

Surveying the surroundings.

Pausing that chess game long enough to tell a joke or look out the window and contemplate the weather.

Jumping off the merry go round to go lay in a patch of grass nearby instead.

Sitting with emotion. Identifying it, giving it a name.

This entire chapter resonated with me because 2019 has been the year of “I’m fine.” You know how it goes- Someone asks how you are doing and you retort with that blasé, automatic comeback. The most surface-level, casual response in the book. The one that, although canned and lacking any sort of personality whatsoever, fits perfectly in your back pocket for frequent retrieval. “I’m fine” can be heard when zooming past on a porcelain white horse. “I’m fine” is an auto response that doesn’t interrupt the concentration of a chess game.

I used “I’m fine,” all year when asked about how I was handling my mother’s loss. How I was “holding up.” I began to use it in private. A quick, unannounced sob followed by my hands, whisking away tears while holding my head up high in the mirror. “I’m fine.”

And I trudge on. I walk ahead. I increase my pace to a trot, a gallop. The direction is clear. Forward, that’s where we should all be heading.

“Have you found someone to share your heart with?”

“Are you giving to your community?”

“Are you at peace with yourself?”

“Are you trying to be as human as you can be?”

This book made me sit with these questions for a while. It made me undergo this “out of body” experience that elevated me above my to do list and goal tracker. I hovered over my chess board, looked long at the various players. My career. My marriage. My holiday shopping guide. Family planning. Entertaining for Thanksgiving, my table that needed to be set. My social media accounts. The paycheck and my lingering debt. A house that needed cleaning. Self-care.

I thought long and hard about the things that weren’t so apparent on my life map. When did I stop volunteering, and why? Where could my helping hand be most utilized? When was the last time I made out with my husband? What do I believe in, and what rituals do I practice to keep that faith alive? How can I talk to my friends more? How do I make new friends? How do I make time, to ensure that fitness and health are a priority? And lastly, most importantly, what am I feeling? Am I at peace right now? Is there anyone I need to forgive, need to voice my appreciation to? Provide emotional support, or a simple nudge? Does anyone need me to sit with them for a while, help them unpack? And what is it that I need to unpack?

What do I need to feel fully today?

Is it joy? Is it sorrow? Is it love?

As a society, we have been taught to play the grind game until the end of our days, and while many have in fact learned to slow down, love hard, make peace, appropriately strategize, live gracefully, constant rewiring of our learned thought process and movement must take place. I watched my mother pass into the next world with many demons still holding on to things; There were many words left unsaid and many unaddressed emotions left unexplored.

“Tuesdays With Morrie” taught me that I need to do better. Try harder. Feel more and be more. And NOT to the point of exhaustion, in balancing all of the things that life has to offer… but by prioritizing all of the right things.

“What if you had one day perfectly healthy,” Mitch asked. “What would you do?”

“Let’s see,” Morrie said. “I’d get up in the morning, do my exercises, have a lovely breakfast of sweet rolls and tea, go for a swim, then have my friends come over for a nice lunch. I’d have them come one or two at a time so we could talk about their families, their issues, talk about how much we mean to each other.

Then I’d like to go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven’t seen in so long now. In the evening, we’d all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck- I love duck- and then we’d dance the rest of the night. I’d dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there until I was exhausted. And then I’d go home and have a deep wonderful sleep.”

“That’s it?” Mitch inquired.

“That’s it.”

Mitch contemplated in his writing: “It was so simple. So average. I was actually a little disappointed. I figured he’d fly to Italy or have lunch with the President or romp on the seashore or try every exotic thing he could think of. After all of 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 this was the whole point.”

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