Albom explains in “The Professor” how Morrie’s childhood experiences with death led him to become a professor. “The Professor” is among the saddest chapters in Tuesdays With Morrie for its description of childhood loss and life in poverty.
Morrie’s mother died when he was still young. Morrie was the son of a Russian immigrant who spoke little English, so he had to read a hospital telegram that announced his mother’s death to his father. Furthermore, after Morrie took his younger brother, David, out to scrub porches for nickels, David woke up the next morning unable to move. He had polio, and Morrie naively blamed himself for his brother’s illness. It was a dark time in Morrie’s life, and he spent a great deal of time at the synagogue praying to God to care for his mother and protect his brother.
Morrie’s father remarried while David was still sick. Eva was a Romanian immigrant who had the energy of two women. She pushed Morrie to do well in school because she saw education as the way out of the poverty they lived in. Eva was kind and caring, though some nights she was only able to serve the family bread for supper. When David had recuperated, Morrie’s father was determined that David should grow up thinking that Eva was his real mother. Consequently, Morrie was not allowed to discuss his mother and only had the telegram announcing her death to remind him of her.
As a teenager, Morrie’s father tried to get work for his son at a fur factory. Albom explains how horrified Morrie felt at seeing the factory floor with a supervisor yelling at the workers. He determined never to work in any industry that exploits others. He also ruled out law, because he did not like lawyers, and medicine, because he could not stand blood. Albom concludes that the greatest professor he ever had ironically settled upon teaching as a career “by default.”
Albom closes the chapter with a quote from Henry James: “a teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” If Eva was correct that an education is a way out of poverty, perhaps James’s statement suggests that teaching allows people to give to others even after they have died. By writing Tuesdays With Morrie, Albom is demonstrating the truth of James’s claim.