Tuesdays with Morrie
The Student - The Audiovisual
Although Mitch had promised at graduation to keep in touch with Morrie, he has not. Over the years, he had lost touch with most of his college friends, as well as the man he had been in college, and the values he had upheld. He had abandoned his long-time dream of becoming a famous pianist after several years of failed attempts, and after the death of his favorite uncle who had taught him music, among many other life lessons. Mitch had admired his uncle very much, and had modeled himself after him. He had died a slow, painful death from pancreatic cancer, and watching him die had made Mitch feel helpless.
When his uncle asks Mitch if he will watch over his children after he has died, Mitch tells him not to talk of such things. Only a few weeks later, his uncle dies, and Mitch's outlook on life is forever changed. He now feels that the time is precious, and must be used to its fullest potential, which, at the time, he believes to be financial success. He earns a master's degree in journalism and takes the first job offered to him. Determined not to live the boring corporate life his uncle had led, Mitch avoids such repetition by taking various freelancing positions, and is constantly moving from city to city. When he is given a column by the Detroit Free Press, Mitch is swamped with money and success, but feels unfulfilled. He spends all of his time working, and never takes a moment to enjoy himself.
It is during this time that Mitch meets Janine, his future wife whom he marries after a seven-year courtship. He promises her that they will someday have a family, though he dedicates all of his time to his work and none to Janine or the family they had hoped to have. Mitch throws away the mail he receives from his alma matter, Brandeis University, and does not know about Morrie's illness until one night as he is flipping the channels on his television.
In March of 1995, Morrie is interviewed by Ted Koppel, the host of ABC-TV's news program, "Nightline." Koppel arrives at Morrie's house in West Newton, Massachusetts in a limousine, with his television crew behind him. Morrie is now confined to a wheelchair, as he cannot walk. Despite the progression of his illness, Morrie refuses to get depressed and writes small philosophies about accepting one's own death. Maurie Stein, a friend of his, sends some of these aphorisms to a Boston Globe reporter who publishes a feature story on Morrie. The article had prompted Koppel's visit.
Everyone is excited by Koppel's presence, though Morrie remains calm. He tells Koppel that he needs to ask a few personal, introductory questions before he will agree to do the interview. When Koppel concedes, Morrie asks him to mention something that is "close to his heart." Koppel mentions his children, and quotes Marcus Aurelius. He then asks Morrie about his show, which Morrie has seen only twice. When Koppel asks him what he had thought about it, Morrie tells him he had seemed like a narcissist. Koppel jokingly replies that he is too ugly to be a narcissist, and the men laugh.
During the interview, Morrie does not wear makeup or fancy clothes, as he does not want to convey the message that he is embarrassed by death and aging. He tells Koppel he wants to die with dignity, and live the rest of his life the way he wants to. Some mornings, Morrie says he cries out of anger and bitterness, but is renewed by his ambition to live. He accidentally calls Koppel "Fred" instead of "Ted," but quickly corrects himself. Morrie tells of his growing dependency on others, and admits that his worst fear is that someday, he will not be able to wipe himself after he has gone to the bathroom. By chance, Mitch sees this television program as he is flipping channels one night, a chance that serves as the catalyst for the reunion between him and his old professor.
Mitch flashes back to the spring of 1976, when he has his first class with Morrie. In Morrie's classroom, he wonders if he should take the class, as it will be hard to cut with so few students. Morrie takes attendance and asks Mitch if he prefers to be called "Mitch" or "Mitchell," a question he has never been asked by one of his teachers. He replies that his friends call him "Mitch," and Morrie, after deciding on "Mitch," replies that one day, he hopes he will call him a friend.
The third chapter of the book, The Student, explores Mitch as a character, and how he has transformed from an ambitious, hopeful young man into a money- grubbing professional who has abandoned his long-harbored dreams for financial security. It is clear that Mitch feels disconnected with the man he was in his youth, but desperately wants to reestablish a connection with his forgotten dreams and values. Mitch had abandoned his dreams at a very vulnerable period in his life, as he had grown increasingly discouraged by his failure playing the nightclub circuit, and to compound his disillusionment, had lost his favorite uncle, to whom he was very close. More than any other factor, it is his uncle's death that Mitch finds the most disturbing, and from then on sees life as a race to beat the clock, sucking dry every moment of life to win money and power in the business world. Mitch feels helpless as he watches his uncle die slowly and painfully of cancer, and yearns for some sense of control in his own life, which he eventually gains when he adopts a steady work routine and gains financial security, two perks absent from his piano touring days.
Mitch's relationship to his uncle is comparable to his relationship with Morrie, in that they have both affected his general outlook on life. However, it is vital to notice the difference between the two men and Mitch's reaction to each of their lifestyles. Mitch makes a conscious and earnest effort to be as unlike his uncle as he can possibly be, opting for various jobs in various locales so that he may avoid the terrible monotony of corporate life he had seen his uncle suffer through. However, Mitch does say that he models himself after his uncle, as he models himself after Morrie. Both men come across as kind and giving, and both have shaped Mitch as a person. In his reunion with Morrie, though, he realizes that by trying not to live the life his uncle had led, he has only done himself a disservice. He has immersed himself in work, not love, and is therefore unsatisfied. Seeking happiness in love versus seeking happiness in money serves as one of Morrie's most important lessons, as it is repeated numerous times throughout the book.
Morrie's interview shows his refusal to adhere to the rules of social culture. He is not dazzled by Ted Koppel, as is everyone else who meets him. Instead, Morrie sees each person for what he or she is: simply and purely human. Unlike the others who feed into America's media-soaked culture, Morrie treats Koppel as he would any other man. Morrie sees the humanity in Ted Koppel, not the celebrity, and tries to extract this simple humanity when he asks Koppel what is "close to his heart." Morrie seems to be asking also why the culture has forgotten love and remembered money. Why, he essentially asks, has the importance shifted from people to dollar bills, to fame? When Morrie admits that he had thought of Koppel as a narcissist — a vain, shallow, selfish person who is capable of loving only himself — he indirectly expresses his distaste for the modern media circus and the way in which the culture readily buys into it.
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