Living with ALS through the eyes of Morrie Schwartz
CHARLOTTE, NC: During a conversation with one of my caregivers last week, the subject of a book written by Mitch Albom in 1997 came up. Having been a television sportscaster in a previous life myself, I was somewhat familiar with Albom’s sportswriting career from watching him on an ESPN program where four print journalists debated the issues of the previous week.
I never met Mitch Albom personally, but I did pass him a couple of times in the press room during NCAA Final Four basketball tournament games. We never spoke. I learned long ago, from my far less illustrious experience as a semi-celebrity on a local level how important it is to allow well-known people the opportunity to maintain their own space and some semblance of privacy.
Tuesday’s With Morrie
Still, I was also familiar with a non-sports book that Albom had written titled Tuesday’s with Morrie. Though I had never read it, I knew the basic premise of the book was Albom’s regular Tuesday meetings with his favorite college professor, Morrie Schwartz, a man Albom referred to as “Coach.”
What I did not know was that Morrie Schwartz was a victim of ALS. When my caregiver informed me of that fact, I immediately became more intrigued.
My caregiver told me that she had read the book several times and frequently listened to its inspirational messages on audio while driving. I don’t remember whether she saw the made-for-television movie version produced in 1999 with Jack Lemmon playing Morrie.
We looked the book up and found the movie on YouTube before we also located the CD audio version. Then for the next fifteen or twenty minutes or so we watched and listened.
At that point we turned off all the various versions we had discovered because I decided that the only true way for me to get the full impact of the work was to read it myself; to let Morrie Schultz’ philosophy as expressed through Mitch Albom’s skillful transcription wash over me like a glorious rhetorical shower of words.
I have always been fascinated by the quotations of others and how they view(ed) the world.
Years ago I began collecting the words of writers, orators, playwrights, philosophers and anyone else who has expressed some profound or poignant observation about the world.
At first, my collection was mostly related to travel, but as time went on, the range of topics grew incrementally.
After living in Saudi Arabia for a year in 2003-2004, I read between 25 and 30 books about Islam. Today, combined with my personal observations, I have a massive amount of material on the subject.
After reading several excerpts from Tuesdays with Morrie, I was amazed at how much of his ALS journey paralleled my own.
ALS is a death sentence.
For the moment, at least, there is no cure. The biggest philosophical difference between an ALS patient and someone who is healthy is that with ALS the inevitable becomes more focused.
Morrie Schultz put it this way:
“Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”
In that regard, I noticed one big difference between Morrie Schultz’ thoughts and my own. Perhaps I am naive or in denial and just too ignorant to see the handwriting on the wall because Morrie talked at length with Mitch Albom about dying and death.
He spoke of occasional brief bouts of self-pity and crying, before bursting forth with renewed energy and vitality.
I remember hearing N.C. State basketball coach, Jim Valvano, make similar references during his final days when he was dying of cancer.
The regrets in my life.
I wish I could have known the thrill of playing in a Major League baseball game. There would have been joy in fulfilling my dream of traveling to 100 countries. There are other things in my never-empty bucket list as well.
On the other hand, I did play professional baseball for four years, two of which were with ‘Sparky’ Anderson as my manager. I even played all 29 innings of the longest uninterrupted professional baseball game in history. We lost, 4-3, and I went 1 for 13.
During my travels, I was arrested twice in Saudi Arabia for taking pictures of a mosque. And I was in Normandy, France on 9/11. I saw the Sistine Chapel ceiling renovation the night before it opened to the public. The there is the time I flew in the cockpit of the Concorde during a landing at JFK and met the king and queen of Sweden.
I interviewed Bjorn Borg on the deck of Barbara Hutton’s yacht in Stockholm Harbor among many other unique experiences.
Never in my wildest imagination could I have ever conceived of such a wealth of rewarding events in a single lifetime or ten.
But even now, though I know the ultimate travel experience looms just over the horizon, I cannot remember a time since my ALS diagnosis when I have ever given the ultimate conclusion a second thought.
To be sure, I wonder if I have taken the time to properly let those people who are most important in my life know of their impact. Certainly, there are a few people I would dearly love to see just one more time. But as for keeping a watchful lookout for the ferryman as he steadily rows ever closer, I choose not to participate.
So on this day I leave you with five beautiful gems of wisdom from Morrie Schultz and Mitch Albom:
“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
“Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hold on too long.”
“Don’t cling to things because everything is impermanent.”
“There is no such thing as ‘too late’ in life.”
“Love wins. Love always wins.”
Thank you, Morrie and Mitch for creating greater ALS awareness and your inspiration.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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