“You’re not just a wave, you’re part of the ocean”.
A favourite quote from one of my favourite books, Tuesdays with Morrie, written by Mitch Albom about his reunion with his old college professor, who’s dying from ALS.
I first read this book when I was 16. For a little less than 20 years, the wisdom of a dying American sociology professor has served as my bookish mentor in almost all phases of my life up until this point. It represents my first experience with random book picking and it is also (perhaps) THE most important book I have ever read.
Here is why.
I was 16 and I had just started my first job at Borgen Publishers, where one of my first tasks was to clear the stock warehouse of books, as the archive was to be removed to a different location with much less space. So I literally spent 3 weeks throwing out books. Of course that was a hard job and I ended up taking home two books for every one book I threw out. But if there ever was a book I was meant to pick out at random, this was the one. And as I read and re-read it and passed it on to my family and friends, it has become my go-to book, an oracle of sorts, whenever life gets tough or I need a bit of perspective on whatever hardships I face. The school of life, you know.
Jack Lemmon & Hank Azaria in Oprah Winfrey’s Hollywood rendition of the book (1999). Photo: Play It Again, Dan.
The book in itself is nothing big or literary. It is based on the actual taped conversations between a sports reporter, who reconnects with his dying sociology professor and meets with him every Tuesday to talk about everything big and small concerning life, death, love, freedom, regrets, family, emotions, marriage, forgiveness, anxiety, money, culture. A very simple story with all the essential issues and aspects of life. Big and small.
Dying is one thing to be sad about, living unhappily that’s another
But even though the story is simply told, it is nowhere near banal. Morrie, the coach, is so vibrant and full of life although he is in fact dying. The contrast hits you straight in the heart, and as he passes on one comforting and life-affirming aphorism after the other, we’re reminded of the simultaneous beauty and fragility of life, as we follow Morrie coming nearer and nearer to the end. “Dying is one thing to be sad about, living unhappily that’s another,” “we must love one another or die” (quoting W. H. Auden) and “you’re not just a wave you’re part of the ocean” are just some of the wisdoms that Morrie shared as life slowly left him. The story is so quietly intense and beautifully written, and it basically changed the way I think of adversity, setbacks and hardships and how I work to overcome them when every once in a while life strikes hard. It’s celebratory of life and love and the beauty of falling rain drops and silly dancing just because … silly dancing. This book is in many ways the reason why I am who I am today.
If one day, some day, you have half a day to spare, I highly recommend this reading experience.
So, yeah. Waves and oceans.
And ripple effects.