"Mitch," he said, laughing along, "even I don't know what 'spiritual development' really means. But I do know we're deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don't satisfy us." (13.40)
Morrie is admitting that spiritual stuff is a lot to figure out, even in his old age. But he does know that it's something that is the opposite of materialism. There's definitely something else out there that we need, because material things just don't cut it.
"Do what the Buddhists do. Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, 'Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?'" (13.9)
Morrie draws from Buddhism here, and the idea is to work on perfecting yourself so that when the time comes, we're ready to go. The people we're accountable to are ourselves.
Do you believe in reincarnation? I ask.
What would you come back as?
"If I had my choice, a gazelle." (15.59-62)
Morrie and Mitch are willing to entertain the idea of reincarnation. The idea of being born again as a different creature comes from the Hindu faith. This idea doesn't come up a lot and they aren't even saying that they definitely think it's a true idea, but Morrie is willing to think of it as an option.
As my visits with Morrie go on, I begin to read about death, how different cultures view the final passage. There is a tribe in the North American Arctic, for example, who believes that all things on earth have a soul that exists in a miniature form of the body that holds it—so that a deer has a tiny dear inside it, and a man has a tiny man inside him. When the large being dies, that tiny being lives on. (16.23)
Mitch is doing his own research about spiritual things. He finds this obscure tribal belief that says that the soul is a mini version of the creature it lives inside. He seems more fascinated by the idea of it than thinking that it's true.
"The problem, Mitch, is that we don't believe we are as much alike as we are. Whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, men and women. If we saw each other as more alike, we might be very eager to join in one big human family in this world, and to care about that family the way we care about our own." (21.30)
Morrie is saying that despite what each of us believes, we should be able to recognize what makes us all the same—faith shouldn't be something that keeps people apart. Clearly, Morrie values this one human family more than particulars about what put us here on earth and where we'll go afterwards.
Koppel was near tears. "You done good."
"You think so?" Morrie rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "I'm bargaining with Him up there now. I'm asking Him, 'Do I get to be one of the angels?'"
It was the first time Morrie admitted talking to God. (22.28)
As Mitch says, this is the first time that Morrie ever admits that he talks to God. Again, this is a little strange since he's on his deathbed and seems very frank about most things that he thinks. He doesn't mention it again.
"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." (24.28)
There's something permanent about what we do here on earth. Our good actions can live forever, in the way that an eternal soul can. Our memory also lives on, in those lives that we touch while we are living.
"The first wave says, 'You don't understand! We're all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn't it terrible?'"
"The second wave says, 'No, you don't understand. You're not a wave, you're part of the ocean.'"
I smile. Morrie closes his eyes again.
"Part of the ocean," he says, "part of the ocean." I watched him breathe, in and out, in and out. (24.68-71)
This little anecdote that Morrie and Mitch are sharing isn't explicitly spiritual, but it has spiritual connotations. Just like waves that are part of the great big ocean, the story is suggesting that we're all part of something bigger than ourselves.
And which are the important questions?
"As I see it, they have to do with love, responsibility, spirituality, awareness. And if I were healthy today, those would still be my issues. They should have been all along." (24.36-37)
Here, the topic of spirituality is listed as a set of priorities. Maybe Morrie is saying that although he values spirituality, he puts it on the same level as other things, like being mindful of the world around us.
What a thing for a onetime agnostic to say. Too harmonious, grand, and overwhelming a universe to believe that it's all an accident? (28.20)
In Mitch's afterword, he reveals a statement that Morrie gave when asked if he believed in a higher power. He hadn't decided completely, but this strongly suggests that he has hope of one. He was an agnostic for most of his life, but maybe Morrie had a serious change of heart toward the end that he kept to himself. Certainly sounds possible.