Our guest on CNN Interactive's Tuesday Book Chat was Mitch Albom, sports writer for the Detroit Free Press , and author of "Tuesdays with Morrie."
Questions: First question - Please tell us about the book - who is Morrie?
MitchAutho: Morrie Schwartz who was a favorite college professor of mine back at Brandeis University in Boston. He and I were very close. I took every class he offered over four years. When I graduated, I lost touch with him for sixteen years until one night I happened to catch the Nightline program and I saw Morrie talking to Ted Koppel about what it is like to die. That's the first I learned that Morrie had ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease, and had only a few months to live. I called him the next day, flew out to visit him, and began a series of Tuesday visits every week for the last five months of his life. Each Tuesday we talked all day about what's important in life once you know you're going to die. In a sense, this was our last "class" together. The lessons I learned are the essence of my book, "Tuesdays With Morrie".
Questions: What courses did Morrie teach?
Questions: How has your life changed since you saw Morrie on Nightline?
MitchAutho: Completely. Most of all, my priorities have been adjusted. I used to be a classic workaholic, and after seeing how little work and career really mean when you reach the end of your life, I put a new emphasis on things I believe count more. These things include: family, friends, being part of a community, and appreciating the little joys of the average day. Believe me, that's a big switch from how I used to think and feel.
Questions: Mitch, was Morrie the one that did not believe in heaven and hell?
MitchAutho: Morrie was born Jewish. But over the years he adopted quite a bit from Christianity and Buddhism as well. He was what I jokingly call in the book "a religious mutt".
Questions: Despite Morrie's seemingly serene approach to his final weeks, were there any difficult moments for the two of you?
MitchAutho: Well, it's always difficult to watch someone you love die. But I think the most difficult thing for me was the realization that, having finally rediscovered this very wise and important man in my life, I was quickly running out of time with him. I think both he and I tried desperately to absorb the best of each other in the brief days we had left together.
Questions: What specifically, do you do differently now? In your day to day life I mean?
MitchAutho: For one thing, I've cut down my work load dramatically. Now when I negotiate a new contract with newspaper, radio, or TV, my priority is time off, not money. Also, my wife and I are trying to start a family, something I was in no hurry to do before Morrie.
Questions: And a follow up: Is that sort of like that old saying, "There are few people on their deathbeds who say to themselves ‘I wish I had worked more’""?
MitchAutho: Mostly, without boring you with a lot of details, I've tried to make family and loved ones always take priority over work and achievement, even if it costs me a few steps in the rat race.
Questions: The book, "Tuesdays with Morrie", is still on the best seller list. Why do you think the book has such broad appeal?
MitchAutho: Three reasons, I think. One, everyone has had some teacher like Morrie, and I think the book reminds people of how precious a teacher or mentor can be. Number two, I think a lot of Americans are working way too many hours-as I was doing-and feeling very dissatisfied, wondering if this is really the path to a happy life. For them, I think the book is an inspiration to allow themselves to step back and appreciate the love and laughter of life without feeling guilty about it. And three, I believe that everyone has either lost someone they love or is going to. Morrie's lessons about how "Death ends a life, but not a relationship" are comforting to people seeking to make peace with saying goodbye to loved ones. Let's face it. We all have two things in common, no matter who we are: We were born and we are going to die. The universal implications of that are why I think "Tuesdays With Morrie" continues to appeal to so many people.
Questions: Morrie talks about how in our culture we yearn for lost youth as the years pile on...and he sees that as a life that has not found meaning. Can you talk about that a little?
MitchAutho: Yes. I asked Morrie once how he kept from envying my youth, since I was young and healthy. He said, "Inside of me is someone your age, but is also a ten-year-old, a twenty-year-old, a fifty-year-old, and a seventy-eight year old. I can be wise and aged when I want to be and young and childish when I want to be. So why should I envy you when I've been where you've been. You should envy me for all the experiences I've had that still await you." That's how Morrie looked at aging. Then again, he spent his days happily, doing what he loved, so there was no reason for regret.
Questions: How do you keep Morrie's memory alive?
MitchAutho: That's not hard, since I get dozens of letters everyday from around the world from people who've read "Tuesdays With Morrie" and who have questions and comments and stories to share. Between those and the various interviews-including tonight and tomorrow night on Nightline with Ted Koppel-I feel like I'm sort of a permanent "teaching assistant" in Morrie's wonderful final class.
Questions: Do you still "talk" with Morrie?
Questions: What was the single thing you loved, or liked most about Morrie?
MitchAutho: That as a teacher, he always made you feel like you were the first and most important student he ever had.
Questions: Was there anything left unsaid?
MitchAutho: That's a good question. I know Morrie would have loved to have one last Tuesday-after he was dead, just so he could tell me and the rest of the world what to expect. Of course, that was impossible. But in our last meeting, he told me that he loved me, and I told that I loved him too, and I think that probably covered all the little things we never got around to saying.
Questions: What was the last week with him like? How much time did you spend with him?
MitchAutho: My last Tuesday with Morrie was very brief. Up to that point he had insisted on being carried to his study every morning because the idea of being in bed was too suggestive of a sick or dying person to him. He had a little expression, "When you're in bed, you're dead." But on that last Tuesday, when I arrived at his house, he was, for the first time in our visits, in bed. And I knew that would be the last time I saw him alive.
Questions: How long did it take you to write the book? How tough was the grief process for you Mitch? How long?
MitchAutho: I took me nine months to write the book, which I couldn't begin writing until a few months after Morrie's death. I guess that was part of the grieving process. You should know that I only wrote the book to pay for Morrie's medical expenses, which was where all the advance money went. I think the writing of the book was actually the best medicine for my grief, because I got to listen to Morrie's voice on tape everyday
and revisit our times together. Which in a way, was like having him back with me again.
Questions: Mitch...heaven forbid...but if you find yourself in a similar position as Morrie was would you do the same Tuesdays with someone?
MitchAutho: I'd be flattered if someone found me worthy of that.
Questions: Did your discussions with Morrie influence your thoughts about an afterlife?
MitchAutho: Here's my best answer for that. I believe that you live on inside the hearts and minds of everyone you've touched while you were here on earth. If someone you loved can still converse with you-as I sometimes do with Morrie-and can still hear what you would say, then to me that is an afterlife. I don't know about Heaven or Hell, but I do know that we are visited all the time by the spirits of those who affected us in life.
If that fits your notion of a hereafter, then I think it's good.
Questions: Were you surprised at all by the response you've received from readers of Morrie's story?
MitchAutho: Absolutely. The publisher only printed 25,000 copies of the book originally. I would've been thrilled if we had just sold those-since, as I mentioned, the book was only written to pay Morrie's medical bills. As it stands now, there are close to 800,000 copies in print and "Tuesdays With Morrie" will be published in 19 countries and 16 languages. I'd be nuts if I said I expected a response like that.
Questions: Thank you for joining us for this week's Tuesday Book Chat, with our guest Mitch Albom, author of 'Tuesdays with Morrie', available from Doubleday books. For more information about the book and author, see http://cnn.com/books .
MitchAutho: I want to thank everybody for their interest in "Tuesdays With Morrie", and if there's more you'd like to know, contact me through Doubleday's web site
or the website "albom.com" or see Morrie tonight and tomorrow on the Nightline programs.
MitchAutho: I wish all of you a happy life ...and thank you again.
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