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Per square inch, Morrie is about as bursting with life as a man could be. He's first described to us at Mitch's graduation as "a cross between a biblical prophet and a Christmas elf" (1.9). Need we even say more?
Whether you think so or not, we're going to anyway. It's kind of how we roll around here.
One of Morrie's most endearing qualities is that he makes everyone who meets him happy. Like, Christmas-morning happy. Mitch describes "the way Morrie lit up when I entered the room. He did this for many people, I know, but it was his special talent to make each visitor feel that the smile was unique" (19.51). We smile a little just thinking about it.
Importantly, though, Morrie challenges many ideas of happiness. To him, happiness isn't something that's magically ours once we have everything we want in life. Quite the opposite, actually. It's something that we make a choice to have even if we have nothing to brag about. And we've got to work to keep it—every day.
Lest we think that Morrie is superhuman, he makes it clear many times that this happiness business is hard work. Especially in his condition. As he tells Ted Koppel in his Nightline interviews:
Let me not deceive you. I see certain things going and I feel a sense of dread. What am I going to do without my hands? What happens when I can't speak? (11.10)
He may keep his eyes on the happiness prize, but that doesn't mean he doesn't cry, too. It's just that after a few minutes he forces himself to pull it together, and he puts his smile back on. This isn't forced, though, or insincere in any way. Instead, Morrie knows that focusing on happiness is the best way to get through his suffering, and also that people need a warm smile from a stranger or a friend to make their days brighter. Others are drawn to Morrie because of the way he makes them feel; as Mitch says, "he was the father everyone wishes they had" (19.65).
Morrie's mantra is "love each other or perish," something he borrowed from W.H. Auden, his favorite poet. He believes that love is the secret to giving life meaning. Everything bad comes from people not loving, or loving the wrong things, like money or themselves instead of other people.
Along these lines, Morrie also has a huge heart, mainly because he allows himself to be vulnerable and love everyone and everything. For instance, he tells Mitch that he's moved to tears while watching the nightly news and seeing strangers suffer. It doesn't matter to him that he's never met them—just the fact that they're human like him makes him feel "their anguish as if it were my own" (8.22). Morrie, it seems, always chooses love.
Morrie's ability to love is actually his defining characteristic—it's what makes him do all that he does. Although he'd be the first to say that his outlook is the product of a lifetime of experience, we see the same quality in Morrie when he's younger. He starved for love as a kid because of a stoic father, but luckily, his stepmother comes into the picture and teaches him "to love and to care" (12.25). She satisfied his own need for affection, and left him thirsty to do the same for others.
Morrie-isms fill the pages of Tuesdays With Morrie. And, well, the book is kind of all about Morrie's thoughts on life. Through life he's come up with his whole theory about the way the world goes 'round.
Morrie likes to think outside of the box. Case in point? He sees culture as the biggest threat to happiness. "We put our values in the wrong things" (18.1), he says—the media tells us that buying cars and stalking movie stars will make us happy, and to put ourselves before others. It tells us that material things are the candy in a piñata, and if we end up with the most we'll be the winners. This is completely wrong, though, according to Morrie. He says:
These people were so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. (18.8)
So what's Morrie's solution? Make your own culture instead, he says. Don't let somebody else tell you what to believe in life, and instead look past all the nonsense about what's socially acceptable and "invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you" (21.32). Given how much joy and love Morrie seems to experience at the end of his life, we're inclined to say this definitely worked well for him.