The Fifth Tuesday: We Talk about Family
It is September, back to school week, and for the first time in thirty-five years, Morrie is not returning to teach. Mitch notes that Morrie's clothes are progressively looser-fitting, as he is rapidly losing muscle and body mass. His shirts sag so much that Mitch must continuously adjust Morrie's microphone. Morrie enjoys this physical closeness, as he now feels a stronger need for affection than ever. He tells Mitch that one's family is one's foundation, as the love and caring that a family giv es is supremely valuable. He then quotes Auden, his favorite poet, who said, "Love or perish." Mitch writes this down. Friends, Morrie urges, are not the same as having family. They can be there sometimes, but family is there constantly.
As he thinks of Morrie and his wife and children, Mitch wonders if he would feel an unbearable emptiness if he were dying and had no children of his own. Morrie tells him that he is never one to dictate whether someone should or should not have a child; a ll he says is that there is no experience like having children. He says that although he is ecstatic at having raised children, he is pained by the thought of their living on without him.
Morrie asks Mitch about his own family, who he had met at his college graduation. Mitch reveals that he has an older sister and a younger brother. At the thought of his older brother, Mitch is quiet. He reveals that his brother, who had moved to Europe sh ortly after his graduation from high school, has estranged himself from the family, as he does not want any help from them in his battle with pancreatic cancer.
Growing up, Mitch had been the good boy in the family, and his brother has been bad. Despite his debauchery, his brother had remained the family favorite. Mitch often feels overly conservative in the presence of his brother, who is funny and charming. Sin ce his uncle's death, Mitch had been convinced that he would die a similarly untimely death from disease, and readied himself for cancer. However, the cancer had not struck Mitch; instead, it had struck his brother. Mitch's brother had continually refused help from the family, as he wanted to grapple with the cancer on his own. Each time Mitch had called his brother's home in Spain and had heard the message on his answering machine, spoken in Spanish, it had served as a disheartening reminder of the great distance between them.
In a flashback to his childhood, Mitch recalls going sledding with his brother. They had narrowly escaped being run over by a car, and after their initial fear and shock has subsided, and they are safe, they swell with pride and feel ready to risk their l ives once more.
The Sixth Tuesday: We Talk about Emotions
Upon his arrival at Morrie's house, Mitch is greeted not by Connie as he usually is, but by Charlotte, Morrie's wife. In keeping with Morrie's wishes, Charlotte has kept her job as a professor at M.I.T., and Mitch is surprised to find her at home. She tells Mitch that Morrie isn't having a good day, and also admits that he can no longer eat the food that Mitch brings him each week, as he can only ingest soft food and liquids. Morrie hadn't told him, as he hadn't wanted to hurt Mitch's feelings. Ch arlotte seems despondent, and Mitch attributes her distant look to her exhaustion, as she often is up throughout the night with Morrie when he cannot sleep. Morrie's condition had been decreasing rapidly, and now there are home health care workers working 24-hour shifts to care for him. Mitch notices the many pill bottles that line the kitchen table.
Morrie is now coughing more violently than ever and struggles for breath as he talks with Mitch. He explains to Mitch that he is consciously "detaching himself from the experience," and explains the Buddhist philosophy that one should not cling to things because everything that exists is impermanent. Mitch questions emotional detachment, and Morrie reveals that detachment does not mean ignoring an experience, but immersing yourself in it. By experiencing wholly, one is able to let go, to detach. Morrie te lls Mitch that he must detach during his most frightening moments, like when his chest seizes up and he is unable to breathe. It is then that he must step outside of himself and accept that he could die at any moment.
After his explanation of detachment, Morrie suffers a violent coughing fit. Mitch slaps him on the back until he recuperates. Morrie reveals that he wants to die in peace and serenity, unlike the fit he had just suffered. Detachment, he says, brings him s erenity during such a frightening episode. Mitch asks Morrie not to go just yet, and Morrie concedes, saying that they still have much work to do. Morrie tells Mitch that if he could be reincarnated, he would come back to earth as a gazelle, because they are "graceful and fast." Initially, Mitch thinks this is a strange choice, but understands when he studies Morrie's withering frame.
In addition to his teachings on cultural rejection and development, Morrie's most important lesson is that love is essential for fulfillment and happiness. He summarizes this lesson when he recites the Auden quote, "Love or perish." Morrie, who is known for his belief aphorisms such as this, means to say that to survive, people need other people who they can give love to, and who will love them back. Morrie is considers himself fortunate because he has loved ones, including Mitch, who care for them with as much love as he would show them, were they ill. The distinction that Morrie makes between friends and family is understandable. Flesh and blood, he says, are there for you always, as you are intrinsically tied to them. Friends, he claims, are not as st able, not as secure in their love. Morrie also believes that only family can provide a solid foundation for an individual to grow from, and implies that without this solid basis, one can never know love.
However, Morrie's lessons are volatile with claims that could easily be argued against, such as this one in particular. Can friends not create a family? And can children who are raised in abusive situations not know love in healthy adult relationships? Morrie's laws of love and life may apply to him personally, though not necessarily to all of his readers. Yet another arguable issue that arises in Tuesdays With Morrie is the contradictory presentation of creating one's own culture. If Morrie is e ncouraging Mitch to create a culture all his own, why is it that he tries to influence it with his own values? Also contradictory is Morrie's statement regarding parenting children. He mentions that he is never one to preach that a person should or shoul d not have a child, then insinuates that to forfeit parenting is to forfeit some essential aspect of life.
In advising Mitch that he should begin "detaching" himself from his experiences, Morrie does not intend for him to stop feeling or experiencing. Instead, he wants for Mitch to realize that time is fleeting, as is life itself, a general message Morrie send s throughout the entirety of the book. Morrie detaches during his frightening coughing episodes so that he may accept the impermanence of his life, and embrace his death, which he knows may come at any moment. In detaching from oneself, Morrie means that one can step out of tangible surroundings and into one's own state of consciousness, namely for the sake of gaining perspective and composure in a stressful situation. Morrie's openness to reincarnation is revealing also of his attitude towards the afterl ife; he does not know what it holds for him, but is willing to accept his fate, whatever it may hold. The bottles of medication that line the kitchen table serve as foreboding symbols of Morrie's rapid deterioration, and of his fast-approaching death.