I look back sometimes at the person I was before I rediscovered my old professor. I want to talk to that person. I want to tell him what to look out for, what mistakes to avoid. I want to tell him to be more open, to ignore the lure of advertised values, to pay attention when your loved ones are speaking, as if it were the last time you might hear them.
Mostly I want to tell that person to get on an airplane and visit a gentle old man in
I know I cannot do this. None of us can undo what we've done, or relive a life already recorded. But if Professor Morris Schwartz taught me anything at all, it was this: there is no such thing as "too late" in life. He was changing until the day he said good-bye.
Not long after Morrie's death, I reached my brother in Spain. We had a long talk. I told him I respected his distance, and that all I wanted was to be in touch-in the present, not just the past-to hold him in my life as much as he could let me.
"You're my only brother," I said. "I don't want to lose you. I love you."
I had never said such a thing to him before.
A few days later, I received a message on my fax machine. It was typed in the sprawling, poorly punctuated, all-cap-letters fashion that always characterized my brother's words.
"HI I'VE JOINED THE NINETIES!" it began. He wrote a few little stories, what he'd been doing that week, a couple of jokes. At the end, he signed off this way:
I HAVE HEARTBURN AND DIAHREA AT THE MOMENT-LIFE'S A BITCH. CHAT LATER?
[signed] SORE TUSH.
I laughed until there were tears in my eyes.
This book was largely Morrie's idea. He called it our "final thesis." Like the best of work projects, it brought us closer together, and Morrie was delighted when several publishers expressed interest, even though he died before meeting any of them. The advance money helped pay Morrie's enormous medical bills, and for that we were both grateful.
The title, by the way, we came up with one day in Morrie's office. He liked naming things. He had several ideas. But when I said, "How about Tuesdays with Morrie?" he smiled in an almost blushing way, and I knew that was it.
After Morrie died, I went through boxes of old college material. And I discovered a final paper I had written for one of his classes. It was twenty years old now. On the front page were my penciled comments scribbled to Morrie, and beneath them were his comments scribbled back.
Mine began, "Dear Coach . . .'
His began, "Dear Player . . ."
For some reason, each time I read that, I miss him more.
Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it is only in your head. Sometimes it is right alongside their beds.
The last class of my old professor's life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesdays. No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience.
The teaching goes on...