The last class of my old professor’s life took place once a week in his house, by a window in the study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink leaves. The class met on Tuesdays. It began after breakfast. The subject was The Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience.
Finally, on a hot, humid day in August 1994, Morrie and his wife, Charlotte, went to the neurologist’s office, and he asked them to sit before he broke the news: Morrie had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Lou Gehrig’s disease, a brutal, unforgiving illness of the neurological system. There was no known cure. . . . “So I’m going to die?” Yes, you are, the doctor said. I’m very sorry.
As my old professor searched for answers, the disease took him over, day by day week by week. He backed the car out of the garage one morning and could barely push the brakes. That was the end of his driving. He kept tripping, so he purchased a cane. That was the end of his walking free. He went for his regular swim at the YMCS, but found he could no longer undress himself. So he hired his first home care worker . . . who helped him in and out of the pool, and in and out of his bathing suit. . . . That was the end of his privacy.
Do I wither up and disappear, or do I make the best of my time left? he had asked himself. He would not wither. He would not be ashamed of dying. Instead, he would make death his final project, the center point of his days. Since everyone was going to die he could be of great value, right? He could be research. A human textbook. Study me in my slow and patient demise. Watch what happens to me. Learn with me.