MOURNING THE LETHAL YET LIVING THE MORTAL: A SOUVENIR OF ETHICAL CONTENTMENT WITH REFERENCE TO READING OF TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE
Shrabanee Khatai M.Phil., Scholar (Ravenshaw University) Email: [email protected]
The restriction of the plethora of desires as well as finding satisfaction with the contemporary circumstances and belongings can be known as the state of contentment. Ethical Contentment is the advanced form of contentment where one does not only find pleasure with things as they are but also knows the distinguished difference between what constitutes the right and wrong and moulds his attitude according to that. In other words ethical contentment is the result of balanced synchronization of the value systems. In the 21st century this value system has been degraded because of the competitiveness among everyone to succeed in the rat race. Right from family to love to culture to tradition; everything gets a secondary place in order to gain success and status. Mitch Albom in his book Tuesdays with Morrie recounts the last days of his favourite professor Morrie Schwartz battling with the lethal disease ALS. To both Mitch and the reader the element of surprise is how during the crucial days of his life Morrie, instead of shrinking into a shell owing to the disease, substitutes morality in an amoral person. This paper examines the difference of opinion of value system as per cultural tradition and ethics in relation to a dying man’s internalization of experiences.
KEYWORDS: Value System, Culture, Ethics, Contentment.
“Try not to become a Man of Success. Rather become a man of value.”
Human beings are the dominant species on the Earth outnumbering every other species present. They are supreme from everyone else in terms of intellectual and emotional capability and this same notion is procured in the Bible also. However unjustified this anthropocentric view might be the species who pronounce it to be superior from others must have some value system of its own; at least to be true to the Biblical theory. Instead humans are obsessed with self-absorption and self-estimation at the cost of self-reflection and self-gratification. In the name of society and tradition they’ve lowered the ethical perspectives to such a level that nothing but only self-actualization can make them understand the value of value system. And that actualization can come through the reading of literature as literary works are the storehouse of moral answers to everyday nuisances unanswerable in society. “Whether it is the confession of Lear asking Cordelia for forgiveness or the eventual maturity and self-awareness of Pip, or the struggles of Pierre and Mary in War and Peace, these ‘old tales’ are inseparable from the life and thought of their age. There is no doubt that these fictional lives have affected generations of readers and, because of their power, immediacy and beauty influenced many lives in a profoundly moral sense” (Pantic 1-2).
One such book in the canon of literature imbued with moral values is Tuesdays with Morrie. Filled with simple, genuine, powerful and timeless insights this book is based on the weekly interviews that Albom conducted with his sociology professor Morrie Schwartz. Being an energetic and lively person Morrie used to enjoy his days to the fullest until one day in his early seventies he starts experiencing exceptions in his physical strength and ability which is later clarified to be the causalities of a lethal disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. At first Morrie is astonished with the normalcy of life around him but then he is surprisingly upbeat accepting the pending mortality. This paves the arrow for the best value of life that is optimism. Despite of knowing the evil consequences of the disease and that it would gulp him up from bottom to top he asks himself, “Do I wither up and disappear, or do I make the best of my time left?” (Albom 10) and then starts a fresh journey to his final project. He starts to have discussion groups of his own with daily visitors where he discusses different connotations of death with them. After attending a funeral ceremony of a colleague he thinks of having a living funeral of his own as the humane words people say in it are never heard by the person as he is already dead. He is interviewed by Ted Koppel where he relates with people whom he cannot relate to in his discussion group. In addition to that he answers to people who write to him. And in this way Morrie keeps himself engaged every day. All these things are in contrast with tradition as popular culture suggests that suffering from a fatal disease is accompanied by pessimism and despair but Morrie’s perception is instance of how ethics evaluates human lives.
In the aftermath of the diagnosis of ALS Morrie is seen as a bridge between life and death whose only task is to make people internalize everything as he’s doing it and make life worth living. People today are so much occupied with success and money that they completely forget that time is the only thing superior to everything else. Even the author of the book himself says, “I had become too wrapped up in the siren song of my own life. I was busy” (Albom 33). Thus Morrie decides to give people the most precious thing that is time. As he puts it:Why do you think it’s so important for me to hear other people’s problems? Don’t I have enough pain and suffering of my own? Of course I do. But giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. … … … … … … When I give my time, when I make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it’s as close to healthy as I ever feel. (Albom 128) Throughout the book Morrie declares, “Love each other or perish” (Albom 149). Truly love is the only thing constant in the universe. Human beings indulge in ego wars with one another and pollute themselves with the feelings of hatred, revenge, jealousy and envy. They forget the beauty of the effect of spreading love to others. Be it parents or spouse or friends, the love one shares never gets wasted; if not reciprocated, it flows back ad softens and purifies the heart. Morrie related the continuation of love with death and shows how love transcends the boundary of death: 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. (Albom 174)
While making a reverend place in the heart of Mitch with his valuable life lessons, simultaneously Morrie is seen withering rapidly in his physique. In his first interview with Koppel he was able to move his hands but later he is no more able to move them. Gradually the decline and fall of his entire body is seen. All his daily things are done by servants. He is no more able to chew foods; only liquid food is being fed. Everyone close to him silently starts mourning. Even Morrie himself mourns his decline but unlike others he soon resumes his discussion. Almost all people, sometime or other, pity themselves owing to some or other issues. But they don’t know that self-pity makes them feel inferior and coward. Morrie, who can be nothing but only pitied, says, “I don’t allow myself any more self-pity than that. A little each morning, a few tears, and that’s all… …It’s horrible to watch my body slowly wilt away to nothing. But it’s also wonderful because of all the time I get to say good-bye” (Albom 57). Instead of self-pity people should feel contentment with the things they have like Morrie, who in such acute pain also, is happy with the love and support of his family. Only that feeling gives him true gratification leading to contentment. Among others one of the best humane policies should be forgiveness. Holding grudges makes people feel heavy and malicious while letting go and forgiving makes them feel light and benevolent. One should not only forgive others but also themselves paving path for self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff in her book Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself up and Leave Insecurity Behind writes self-compassion entails three core components. First it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. A second component requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated. Third, it requires mindfulness- that we hold our experience in balanced awareness rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. The same notion is exhibited by Morrie when he says, “Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hang on too long” (Albom 162).
In one of the Tuesdays, Janine, wife of Mitch meets Morrie and there he discusses that the lack of commitment is the sole reason behind the problems faced by married couples. It’s all a matter of mutual dependence; respecting each other, compromise with few things, talking openly and having a common set of value system and ultimately belief in the importance of marriage are the keys for a successful marriage. Many people are obsessed with the present and never want to age. Morrie thinks that one needs to live everyday as if it were the last. A person who has not yet lived the time properly wants it again; one who has lived it wants to grow. “Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die… …” (Albom 118). Morrie believes that tradition and culture has made people what they ought not to be. Being constantly under the hanging sword of culture and tradition people have forgot to follow their natural instincts as a result of which their potentialities have been distorted. He advises Mitch neither to follow culture blindly nor to disregard it naively. “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it” (Albom 42).
Traditionally a patient is seen as an object of sympathy and pity. But in Tuesdays with Morrie the patient has become a preacher of good and humane values for his student, his peer group and a seemingly large audience who watch him in the ‘Nightline’ interview. Throughout the book, time and again, there are gradual developments of the effects of the disease on Morrie and his deteriorating condition is being mourned. Yet Morrie proves himself larger than life when he lives each day like an emperor who knows his tenure is short but subsists that time with joy and peace. That is the power of values which gives a seventy year old dying man the bliss of contentment. Being a professor of sociology for more than thirty years he was well aware of the traditional norms of society and how it distorts man’s perception of value system. Therefore he sticks to ethics throughout the book and remains true to his profession of teaching till his last breath. A rich man with a healthy life and absolute knowledge of traditions and customs may not get the kind of contentment which Morrie gets because of his adherence to the ethical value system. Truly Tuesdays with Morrie is a souvenir of ethical contentment resulting from human values tried and tested not on the touchstone of tradition but ethics.
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