Morrie Schwartz, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, grew up in poverty in New York City. As a child he was no stranger to tragedy; his mother died when he was only eight, and a year later, his brother contracted polio. Morrie's father was a distant, solitary soul, and for a time, Morrie felt the full weight of a child growing up in a world devoid of affection. Fortunately, his father remarried, and his new wife Eva provided the affirmation and gentle guidance for which the sensitive young boy so desperately yearned. Through Eva, Morrie learned how to love and care, and to value education. When Morrie was old enough, his father tried to get him a job in the fur factory where he worked, but the boy was horrified by the sight of the employees toiling feverishly in filthy conditions, cringing under the harangues of the boss who screamed constantly at his workers to move more quickly. Fortunately for young Morrie, this happened during the Depression, and there was no work for him. Evidencing the sense of humanity that would direct his life, Morrie promised himself then and there that he would never take part in any work that depended on the exploitation of others.

Morrie worked for awhile in a mental hospital before becoming a teacher. There, he saw firsthand the devastating effects of growing up in an environment devoid of compassion and love. He became a professor of sociology at Boston's Brandeis University during the turbulent sixties, and taught classes on mental health and illness, social psychology, and "group process," in which he emphasized human relationships over scientific theory. Morrie introduced students to the things he believed were important in life—finding meaning in silence, learning to trust others, and seeking the intangible things which bring contentment.

Morrie's lessons were effective because he lived what he taught. He valued his students as individuals, and made them feel important, making time to fellowship with one or another of them after class or over lunch, to share ideas and discuss what was on their minds. Throughout his life he enveloped himself in a "cocoon of human activity," interacting with others without reservation, feeling emotions deeply, and dancing unabashedly to music only he...

(The entire section is 913 words.)