Who is your Morrie?

At a Sunday worship at the end of summer I answered 5 questions that Amy and some others thought would be interesting to hear my response.  I did not know the questions ahead of time.  I was only given 1 minute to respond to each question.  To refresh your memory, the questions were:
 
Why does God allow trials and suffering in our lives? 
What one book other than the Bible has most influenced your life?
 
This month I want to talk about the book that has most influenced my life other than the bible.   
 
It’s funny how God works in our lives.  I’ve seen this over and over and over in ministry and my own personal life.  I remember instinctively answering the question posed to me at worship with “Tuesdays with Morrie.”  What?  Why that book?  Why not some theological heavy weight like “The Book of Concord” or “The Lutheran Confessions” or some even back to my Catholic Seminary days and a Thomas Aquinas book.  Why “Tuesdays with Morrie?”  I’d like to think that has the Spirit prodded me to give that response, the platform with how I base live and minister seemingly came to the surface.  If you have never read the book, go get it.  It won’t take you long to read at a short 192 pages.  It’s a quick read.  If it’s been a while, go check it out from the library and re-read it.    If you’ve never heard of it, here’s the summary from the inside cover of the book:  
 
Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help make your way through it.  For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.  Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded, and the world seemed colde”  r.  Wouldn’t you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger?  Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man’s life. Knowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final “class:” lessons in how to live. The book is a magical chronicle of their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie’s lasting gift with the world.”  
 
The book was turned into a movie and Mitch Albom has gone on to write several other wonderful little books including “Have a Little Faith” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”  But “Tuesdays with Morrie” is the one that touched my soul and spirit and continues to help guide me to this very day.   
 
I don’t want to necessarily write a review of the book- there are plenty of them you can find and read.  The book was first published in 1997.  I had graduated from high school in the Spring and would be heading to St. Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, Indiana for what would end up being a year of school.  St. Meinrad would close its college program the following Spring.  I remember my dad driving me the 300 miles south down Route 41 with all my stuff (way too much stuff as I recall).  I remember being anxious, excited, frightened and eager at being away from home for the first time in my life.  All of my other siblings had remained closer to home for their college education.  I was going the furthest. 

Dad and I

And even though it would only be for a year, it was huge for me and for my dad.  He and I by this time had forged a unique bond.  My mom had died in January 1991.  The rest of my siblings moved out of the house and were living their own lives.  It was dad who would help me survive high school.  It was dad who became the cook of the house.  It was dad who did the laundry and cared for both of us.  I don’t know how he managed to do it all, but he did.  Love gets us to do things we never thought possible.  Albom recounts one of his conversations with Morrie quoting him: “Do the kinds of things that come from the heart.  When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things.  On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back” (128).  Dad and I had become best buds.  Heck, we even worked together on the maintenance team at our church and grammar school.  At times, it might have been a little too much “Dad” for me, but I wouldn’t trade those days for the world, either.  I got to know Dad in ways my siblings hadn’t since we lived and worked together. 
 
I remembered thinking that as he drove away after dropping me off at St. Meinrad.  I know he cried.  I did, too, without my fellow classmates seeing. 

There I am with St. Meinrad in the background.

He had become my rock after mom passed.  And I’d like to think I had gave him something, too.  We really hadn’t talked about how, when or what time we would talk with each other.  It happened organically.  This was the days before cell phones.  My room had a phone….and Dad never got nor wanted a computer.  That just wasn’t his style.  As I settled into the fall semester, we got our reading list and “Tuesdays with Morrie” was on there for one of my classes.  I read the book and instantly connected with it.  It’s a wonderful story of the heart, human connection, friendship, mentoring, and love.  We all have that person in our lives we want to listen to and want their perspective on things.  As Mitch remembered, reconnected and resurrected his relationship with his old professor, I realized that mentor in my life was my dad.  Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder.   
 

Anna with Dad while he is on the phone! He made more phone calls than any one else I know.

Mitch and Morrie settled on Tuesdays for their sacred time together.  Dad and I settled on Wednesday and Sunday nights as our “Check-in Call Time.”  Just about 8:00pm on those days I could always expect a call from dad.  And yes, he insisted on making the phone call so I wouldn’t have to pay for long distance calls.  Sometimes the calls would last mere minutes, other times 45 minutes.  We would catch up only after he would share a joke or two.  He would ask about classes, the monks (St. Meinrad was operated by Benedictine monks), classmates he had gotten to know of mine (my class had a total of 13 of us so it was small- really small), about meals, and just about everything he could think to ask.  I would ask about other family members, happenings back at home and church.  Those Wednesday Night and Sunday Night “Check-in calls” would be our lifeline.  They probably helped me survive that year away.  Now don’t get me wrong…I loved my time at St. Meinrad.  It was a fun and awesome year.  But I missed Dad.  And maybe this time of year as we get closer to the anniversary of his passing (January 2017), I am nostalgic for his voice…for those phone conversations…pieces of advice and jokes he would share.  We hustle and bustle this time of year and we can forget or just look past the precious gifts right in front of us.  
 
Morrie offered this wisdom to Mitch: “We’re so wrapped up with egotistical things, career, family, having enough money, meeting the mortgage, getting a new car, fixing the radiator when it breaks- we’re involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going.  So we don’t get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying, Is this all? Is this all I want? Is something missing?  You need someone to probe you in that direction. It won’t just happen automatically” (64-65). 

One of my favorite memories at St. Meinrad was when Dad and my sister Mary came to visit for Easter.

I can’t help but think as I read the book the first time it was like I was reading about my dad.  Dad wasn’t dying of ALS like Morrie was, but my dad had a unique perspective and wisdom about things.  I loved hearing his stories, his opinions and other times I would just enjoy our banter about sports, religion and politics.  Dad was raised in a certain era and that helped to shape his world vision.  Dad was the one who prodded me to think differently, to see the entire picture, to listen more clearly and to think for myself.  Dad loved people.  He loved being with people and enjoyed being on the phone with them.  I was one of his students.  My siblings and I were his favorite pupils until the grandkids came along!   
 
As Mitch began to record his weekly visits with Morrie and the idea of putting those notes into a book came to fruition, it changed him.  Morrie helped Mitch to rediscover himself that had gotten lost in the busy-ness of his career as a sports writer.  Dad helped me rediscover myself time and time again.  Those Wednesday and Sunday Night calls when I first moved away from home were my lifeline.  I would sit at the foot of dad on those phone calls listening for his wisdom, his heart and his love.  One of the lessons from the book is really finding your purpose and living it.  As Morrie helped remind Mitch of that, Dad did that for me.   What I have found in the almost 21 years since I first read “Tuesdays with Morrie” is that how I function as a human being, how I relate as a husband and father, how I minister as a pastor, how I connect as a friend, how I see my siblings- it’s all about relationship and even more specifically- it’s about finding our purpose.  We can be so busy about doing things, we forget what we are and often the people right in our midst.  I’ve tried to let the model of Mitch visiting Morrie, of the phone calls and interactions with my dad help guide and form my life.  The Bible helps lay the framework for our purpose.  Our humanity and faith looks like something, sounds like something, feels like something, tastes like something…whether I’m preaching a sermon or visiting someone in the hospital, whether it’s a council meeting or helping trim the weeds on the church grounds, I try to live my purpose by just being with those I am with.  For Jesus, it always, always, always was about the person he was interacting with at that specific moment.  His purpose in living was to show us that the meaning of life was in our relationships.  “Tuesdays with Morrie” has shaped me more than I’ll ever really know.  It helped me to realize the gift of my dad and his role as mentor in my life.  To Morrie, Mitch, and Dad, thank you for helping me to be me.  I hope to keep the cycle going and be that person for Amy, Anna and Peter.   
 
Here’s how the book finishes: “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.”  
 
Who was it for you?  Who is it for you today?  Who is your Morrie?  Can you still reach out to them?  Is there a book that has had a profound impact on you?  Why?  Remember your purpose.  Make it a resolution in 2019.  Rediscover YOU. 

One Response to “Who is your Morrie?”

  1. Dan Duggan says:

    Great story from a great man. Your dad was one of the best men I have known. Definitely going to get the book.

    Thanks Jim

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