Tuesdays with Morrie

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Audiovisual, Part Two

The Audiovisual, Part Two

The "Nightline" show had done a follow-up story on Morrie partly becau°e the reception for the first show had been so strong. This time, when the cam­eramen and producers came through the door, they al­ready felt like family. And Koppel himself was noticeably warmer. There was no feeling-out process, no interview before the interview. As warm-up, Koppel and Morrie exchanged stories about their childhood backgrounds: Koppel spoke of growing up in England, and Morrie spoke of growing up in the Bronx. Morrie wore a long­sleeved blue shirt-he was almost always chilly, even when it was ninety degrees outside-but Koppel removed his jacket and did the interview in shirt and tie. It was as if Morrie were breaking him down, one layer at a time.

"You look fine," Koppel said when the tape began to roll.

"That's what everybody tells me," Morrie said. "You sound fine."

"That's what everybody tells me."

"So how do you know things are going downhill?"

Morrie sighed.. "Nobody can know it but me, Ted. But I know it."

And as he spoke, it became obvious. He was not wav­ing his hands to make a point as freely as he had in their first conversation. He had trouble pronouncing certain words-the l sound seemed to get caught in his throat. In a few more months, he might no longer speak at all.

"Here's how my emotions go," Morrie told Koppel. "When I have people and friends here, I'm very up. The loving relationships maintain me.

"But there are days when I am depressed. 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? Swallowing, I don't care so much about-so they feed me through a tube, so what? But my voice? My hands? They're such an essential part of me. I talk with my voice. I gesture with my hands. This is how I give to people."

"How will you give when you can no longer speak?" Koppel asked.

Morrie shrugged. "Maybe I'll have everyone ask me yes or no questions."

It was such a simple answer that Koppel had to smile. He asked Morrie about silence. He mentioned a dear friend Morrie had, Maurie Stein, who had first sent Mor­rie's aphorisms to the Boston Globe. They had been to­gether at Brandeis since the early sixties. Now Stein was going deaf. Koppel imagined the two men together one day, one unable to speak, the other unable to hear. What would that be like?

"We will hold hands," Morrie said. "And there'll be a lot of love passing between us. Ted, we've had thirty-five years of friendship. You don't need speech or hearing to feel that."

Before the show ended, Morrie read Koppel one of the letters he'd received. Since the first "Nightline" pro­gram, there had been a great deal of mail. One particular letter came from a schoolteacher in Pennsylvania who taught a special class of nine children; every child in the class had suffered the death of a parent.

"Here's what I sent her back," Morrie told Koppel, perching his glasses gingerly on his nose and ears. " `Dear Barbara . . . I was very moved by your letter. I feel the work you have done with the children who have lost a parent is very important. I also lost a parent at an early age . . .' "

Suddenly, with the cameras still humming, Morrie adjusted the glasses. He stopped, bit his lip, and began to choke up. Tears fell down his nose. " `I lost my mother when I was a child . . . and it was quite a blow to me . . . I wish I'd had a group like yours where I would have been able to talk about my sorrows. I would have joined your group because . . . "

His voice cracked.

" `. . . because I was so lonely . . . "

"Morrie," Koppel said, "that was seventy years ago your mother died. The pain still goes on?"

"You bet," Morrie whispered.

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