At his commencement from Brandeis University in 1979, Mitch Albom promises his favorite teacher, Morrie Schwartz, that he will keep in touch. Life intervenes, however, and Mitch loses contact with his old mentor until sixteen years later, when he sees him being interviewed by Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline." Morrie has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease will eat away at his nerves, rendering his body useless but leaving his soul and mind intact. Although doctors give him a prognosis of two years, Morrie knows it will be less.
Mitch is stunned to see his old teacher on television. During the years since his graduation, Mitch has tried but failed to make a living as a musician. The death of a close relative instills in him a sense of urgency to do something significant with his life, and he turns to journalism as a career. Mitch works obsessively, burying himself in accomplishments in a single-minded but ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of happiness. Because of his frenetic lifestyle, Mitch has cut himself off from all his past acquaintances, and forgotten the lessons Morrie had taught about relationships and "being human." Seeing the dying man on television rekindles old yearnings, however, and Mitch is drawn to visit his former mentor.
Morrie greets Mitch with unqualified joy, but Mitch reacts with feelings of guilt. Mitch is not the idealistic, sensitive young man he had been when he was in college; he has become jaded, having "traded lots of dreams for a bigger paycheck." Morrie asks Mitch if he is at peace with himself, and Mitch can only squirm uncomfortably in response. Morrie says that dying is only one thing that brings sadness; living unhappily has the same effect. His words strike a cord with the troubled young man, and, upon returning from a short business trip, Mitch arranges to visit Morrie again on Tuesday, in what essentially becomes the opening session of the professor's last class, a class for one.
Mitch and Morrie slip easily back into their old manner of college dialogue during their first Tuesday meeting. Observing the havoc the disease is wreaking on Morrie's once vigorous body, Mitch is astonished at the positivity his teacher shows in facing his inexorable decline. Morrie calls death "the great equalizer," because it allows him to better understand the suffering of others. He is thankful to have been given the time to reflect on the important things in life before he dies.
The topic of the second Tuesday class is self-pity. Morrie, who has every reason to feel sorry for himself, tells Mitch that he consciously imposes "a daily limit on self-pity," a few tearful minutes in the mornings when he allows himself to mourn before focusing on the good things in his life and carrying on with his day. Mitch learns to lift Morrie from his wheelchair to his recliner, and as he holds his mentor's wasted body, he knows that for Morrie, time is truly running out. Mitch brings a tape recorder to their third session, during which Morrie talks...
(The entire section is 1251 words.)