The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. . . . Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.’
Morrie advises against allowing our own hesitation, whether due to low self-esteem or fear of others’ judgments, to prevent us from loving others. Love is rational because anything done with a loving intent will always lead to more love, even if the short-term consequences might seem like a mistake or might lead to pain when a loved one passes away. Stephen Levine, an author and teacher who wrote about death, dying, and grief and whom Morrie quotes, was strongly influenced by Buddhist teachings. Levine and Morrie agree that loving stands as the only act that gives life meaning.
It’s become quite clear to me as I’ve been sick. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.’
Morrie’s belief in family as key to a happy life is reinforced by his illness. Family plays an important role because families are built on love. Of course, Morrie’s love won’t prevent his passing, so readers may infer that his words mean that if we do not love one another, we will perish as a society. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” which actually contains the line “We must love one another or die,” laments the start of World War II, recognizing that a lack of love causes war and that love is needed to redeem humanity.
‘There is no experience like having children.’ . . . You cannot do it with a friend. You cannot do it with a lover. If you want the experience of having complete responsibility for another human being, and to learn how to love and bond in the deepest way, then you should have children.
Here, Morrie speaks of the specific type of love that comes with childrearing. He asserts that parenting produces a different type of love than one can have with any other person. By being completely responsible for another person’s life, one loves in the deepest way because, as Morrie asserts elsewhere, love is about giving to others, not what you get from others. In that sense, being a parent stands as the truest kind of love because parenting requires sacrifice and, at least at first, no obvious reciprocation.
These people were so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.
Morrie explains why people are so drawn to an excess of material things: People are trying to fill a hole that is not being filled by love. He asserts that no amount of material goods will fill that hole, which is why people constantly think they need more possessions. He blames society for “brainwashing” people into believing that material things serve as an adequate substitute for love. In a crisis such as the one Morrie is currently in—facing imminent death—the inadequacy of material things becomes clear.
As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on—in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.
Morrie responds when Mitch asks him if he worries about being forgotten after he dies. Morrie doesn’t fear being forgotten: His love will live on in others. He asserts that by living on in others, we achieve immortality of a sort. He believes this sort of immortality distinguishes human beings from the rest of nature—not the fact of death itself, for every living thing must die. By using touched and nurtured to describe those in whom we live on, he specifies that the love that makes us live on is the love we actively give others, not just love we are given.