Tuesdays with Morrie
The Seventh Tuesday: We Talk about the Fear of Aging
The Professor, Part Two
One of Morrie's first jobs after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago had been as a researcher in a private mental hospital outside of Washington, D.C. He had been given a grant to research the patients and their treatments, which was a gr ound breaking concept then, in the early 1950's. Every day, one female patient would lie face-down on the floor in the hallway and remain there for hours at a time. Morrie had been saddened by the sight of her, and began sitting on the floor beside her, a lthough he was not supposed to interact on such an intimate level with the patients. Morrie eventually coaxed the woman to sit up and return to her room, as all she truly wanted was a bit of attention, which he gave to her.
Morrie came to befriend many of the patients. One woman was notorious for her nasty behavior. She spit at everyone but Morrie, who she called her friend. When she had run away, Morrie had been asked to help lead her back to the hospital. When he and the o ther staff members had found her hiding in a nearby store, she had accused Morrie of betraying her, as he has taken the side of her "jailers." While he had been employed at the hospital, Morrie had noticed that many of the patients had come from very wea lthy families, though their wealth had not contributed whatsoever to their happiness.
At Brandeis University, Morrie had taught many student radicals, advocates of the 1960's cultural revolution. The sociology faculty, including Morrie, had sympathized with these students, and took a very liberal stance. When they had learned that male stu dents who did not maintain a certain grade point average would be drafted, they had bravely decided to give them all A's. Morrie had also gotten personally involved in the revolution. He had traveled to Washington D.C. to protest with students.
At one point, a group of black Brandeis students had claimed one of the campus halls as their own by draping a banner over it that read: "Malcolm X University." This particular hall, Ford Hall, held the university chemistry labs, and much of the adminis tration had feared that the students were concocting bombs. The battle between the students and the university lasted for weeks, and only ended when, one day, Morrie was walking past Ford Hall and a former student of his called to him from the building. M orrie climbed inside through the window, and emerged an hour later with a list of the protester's demands, which he took to the university president. Shortly afterwards, the situation was resolved.
Mitch researches how different cultures view death. He admires the theory of a tribe in the North American Arctic who believe that there is a miniature self within every creature, so that when the larger creature dies, the miniature lives on, whether it immediately takes the form of an infant or takes temporary refuge in the sky and waits for the moon to return it to earth.
The Seventh Tuesday We Talk about the Fear of Aging
Morrie had told Ted Koppel in his first interview that the thing he feared most about his disease was the probability that one day, someone else would have to wipe him after going to the bathroom. Now, his worst fear has come true. Morrie's aide, Co nnie, must now do it for him, and he sees this as a complete surrender to the disease. He is now dependent on others for nearly all of his needs. Once again, Morrie tells Mitch that despite the difficulties of dependency, he is trying to enjoy being a c hild for a second time. He repeats that we should reject culture if we don't find it conducive to our needs, and again tells Mitch that we need to be loved as we are when we are babies, constantly being held and rocked by our mothers. Mitch notes that at 78 years old, Morrie is "giving as an adult and taking as a child."
On his ride to Morrie's house in West Newton from Boston's Logan airport, Mitch notices the beautiful, young people on every billboard he passes. As he nears forty, Mitch is already feeling "over the hill," and tries frantically to stay youthful, working out obsessively, eating healthy foods, and checking his hairline daily. Morrie tells him 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. He says that he has never feared aging; he embraces it. He also tells Mitch that, in old age, to wish for youth indicates an unfulfilled life, and that to fight age is fight a hopeless battle, because aging and death are inevitable, and part of life.
Mitch asks Morrie how he keeps from envying him and his youth. Morrie replies that it is "impossible" for him not to envy young people, but the point of aging is to accept your age at that moment; Morrie has already lived through his thirties, now it is M itch's turn. Morrie has lived through every age up to his own, and he is therefore a part of each of them. How, he asks Mitch, can he be envious of his age when he has already lived through it?
In the second installment of The Professor, Morrie is portrayed as a having been exceptionally liberal for his time and for his age. The first indication that Morrie is ahead of the popular culture is his acceptance of the researching position at the ment al institution, where, as a further showing of his liberal qualities, breaks the rules and befriends the most difficult patients, each of whom respond to Morrie more than they do their doctors and psychiatrists. Morrie's so-called radical values are also exemplified by his unusually intimate relationship with his students, Mitch included. Like the students who protest on Washington D.C., and those who took over Ford Hall to fight racism at the university, Morrie believes in the progression of culture. The culture he has created for himself does not adhere to the popular rules he protests against, and he fights to change popular social values when the do not agree with his own. Morrie continues to be very progressively-minded even in his old age, and often reminds Mitch that he and everyone else is constantly changing form; his self is in continuous transition, despite his age. It is never too late, he says, to change. Morrie applies this belief to the culture that surrounds him, and fights to alter it if the cause is one worth his dedication.
Morrie does not harbor jealousy for Mitch and his youth because he has already been a young man. He is curious about the new frontiers he must face in his old age, and does not wish to return to youth. He does not want to relive the past, but instead want s to experience the future, even if that future is very short. Morrie mentions that to wish for youth is to admit to an unfulfilled life. This statement implies that Morrie has lived a full life, and feels satisfied with the experiences he has had through out his lifetime.
At the close of nearly every chapter, Mitch reflects on an experience of his that somehow relates back to his friendship with Morrie. He often flashes back to his days at Brandeis, a conversation he has shared with Morrie, or, as in this Seventh Tuesday, describes the values and practices of a culture he has researched. Mitch has taken to researching various cultures since his reunion with Morrie, as his professor has stressed that he create a culture all his own, and to reject any part of the popular cul ture that does not cooperate with his own values.
At the end of this particular chapter, Mitch describes a tribe in the Arctic who see birth and death as being interconnected and cyclic, almost as a form of alternative reincarnation. The smaller creature with in the large is what popular culture views as the soul within the body. Like the tribe in the Arctic, popular culture also believes that the soul lives on after death. This idea of living on after death is present throughout much of Tuesdays With Morrie, especially as Morrie's dying day grows nearer. Also prevalent is the idea of life and death as part of a larger cycle, as alluded to in the repeated indirect comparison of Morrie to the pink hibiscus plant, and in the parable he tells on the thirteenth Tuesday, about the waves in the ocean cr ashing, dying, then returning to their place as a small part of a larger body.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!