Take my condition. The things I am supposed to be embarrassed about now — not being able to walk, not being able to wipe my ass, waking up some mornings wanting to cry — there is nothing innately embarrassing about them. It's the same for women not being thin enough, or men not being rich enough. It's just what our culture would have you believe. Don't believe it.
Morrie speaks these words of advice to Mitch during their eleventh Tuesday together, when they talk specifically about culture. Gradually, Morrie has come to accept his physical handicaps, just as he has come to accept his impending death. He complains that the culture is wrong to deem natural physical need as socially embarrassing, and thus he refuses to believe that his handicaps are shameful. In rejecting the values of the popular culture, Morrie creates his own set of mores, which accommodate the physical shortcomings popular culture finds pitiable and embarrassing. As Morrie sees it, popular culture is a dictator under which the human community must suffer. He has already suffered enough from his disease, and does not see why he should seek social acceptance if it is not conducive to his personal happiness. Throughout the book, popular culture is portrayed as a vast brainwashing machine, wiping clean the minds of the public, and replacing the inherent kindness they posses at birth with a ruthless greed and selfish focus.
You see, . . . you closed your eyes. That was the difference. Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too — even when you're in the dark. Even when you're falling.
Morrie says this to his class in a flash back during the second Tuesday. He has asked his class to perform a trust fall exercise, in which the students test one another's trust and reliability by doing trust falls; one student will fall straight backwards and must rely on another student to catch them. Not one student can trust another until one girl falls without flinching. Morrie notes that the girl had closed her eyes, and says that this exercise serves as a metaphor for the secret to trust in relationships; one must sometimes trust blindly, relying only on what they feel to guide them in their decision-making. He uses the exercise to teach his students that trustworthiness is a quality shared by two people in a partnership, and that each person takes a risk in trusting the other. This risk, however, is a risk that people must take. Morrie teaches his students that trust is blind; one can only judge whether or not to trust another based on an instinctive feeling, not because of any rational judgment or method of thinking. To trust someone is to close your eyes and fall back, hoping that the person your instincts have told you is trustworthy will catch you and keep you from harm.
As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed as ignorant as you were at twenty- two, you'd always be twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It's growth. It's more than the negative that you're going to die, it's the positive that you understand you're going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.
Morrie speaks these words of advice to Mitch on their seventh Tuesday together, when they discuss the common fear of aging. Morrie tells Mitch that the happiness of youth is a farce, as not only do young people suffer very real miseries, but they do not have the wisdom of age to deal with them. Morrie has never feared aging; he embraces it. He believes that if he were to wish for youth, that would indicate his dissatisfaction with the life he has lived. He explains to Mitch that to fight age is fight a hopeless battle, because aging and death are inevitable, and a natural part of the life cycle. Morrie has lived through every age up to his own, and he is therefore a part of each of them. He does not wish to return to these particular ages, as each of them are constituents of the man he is now. He is more eager to explore new frontiers he must face in the future, even if that future is very limited. In accepting his own death, Morrie is able to savor the little time he has left to live, instead of wasting away, frustrated and angry that his time on earth is soon to end.
The truth is . . . once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.
Morrie says this on the fourth Tuesday in response to Mitch's question about how one can prepare for death. He responds with a Buddhist philosophy that every day, one must ask the bird on his shoulder if that day is the day he will die. The philosophy serves as a metaphor for his awareness that his death may come at any moment. The bird itself is symbolic of Morrie's consciousness that his death is fast-approaching, and his readiness to accept it when it does arrive. He hopes that Mitch will realize that this bird is on everyone's shoulder at every moment of their lives, despite how young or old they may be. When he tells Mitch that one must know how to die before one can know how to live, he means that one must accept the possibility of one's own death before he can truly appreciate what he has on earth, as the sobering awareness that one day, it will all be out of reach, prompts the urge to appreciate and value what one can have only for a limited period of time, and to use every moment of that time doing something that one will not regret when the bird sings its last note.
After the funeral, my life changed. I felt as if time were suddenly precious, water going down an open drain, and I could not move quickly enough. No more playing music at half-empty night clubs. No more writing songs in my apartment, songs that no one would hear.
Mitch reveals this resolution in the third chapter of the book, The Student, in which he describes the passionate, earnest, innocent young man he had been before entrenching himself in greed and material wealth. Upon the untimely death of his favorite uncle, Mitch's outlook on life is forever changed. He suddenly feels that the time is precious, and is compelled to live his life to its fullest potential, which, at the time, he believes is the attainment of financial success. The quote serves as Mitch's explanation of how he has transformed from an honest, hopeful young man into a money-grubbing professional who has abandoned his long-harbored dreams in exchange for financial security. It is clear that Mitch feels disconnected with the young man he once was at Brandeis, but desperately wants to reestablish a connection with his former ambitions and ethical values. Mitch had abandoned his dreams for musical success at a very vulnerable period in his life, as he had grown increasingly discouraged by his failure in playing the nightclub circuit. The death of his favorite uncle only served to compound his disillusionment, and, more than any other factor, influenced Mitch to envision life as a race to beat the clock, sucking dry every moment to attain wealth and power as a business professional.
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