Chapter 2 Summary
“The Syllabus” outlines the disease Morrie Schwartz suffered from before he died. Albom introduces the disease, its effects, and how Schwartz responded to his decline. Bravely, Schwartz fought to remain useful and a part of his community rather than going into retreat during his illness. Albom’s writing relies on repetition and juxtaposition to create the chapter’s sentimental mood.
Although he was a distinguished professor of sociology, Morrie Schwartz could be found every Wednesday night at “Dance Free,” which was primarily a student gathering. Albom explains Morrie’s love of dance, a love so pure that he would dance without a partner to any music, ranging from the tango to Jimi Hendrix. Dressed in sweat pants, a white T-shirt, and a towel around his neck, he danced every week. He knew something was wrong with him when he was no longer able to dance.
Although it took several tests, Morrie’s doctors eventually diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1994, which is more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although doctors did not know the cause, they knew the disease was terminal. Albom likens ALS to a burning candle because it “melts your nerves and leaves your body like a pile of wax.” Morrie slowly lost his ability to dance, to drive, and to dress himself—a depressing process that Albom emphasizes by using the refrain “that was the end of” to organize the details of Morrie’s decline. At first, Albom explains, Morrie was surprised to find that the world had not ended, but he later strove to make the most of his remaining time. He refused to become “useless.” Instead, Morrie went on to teach his final course, warning his students that he might die before it ended.
Morrie lead discussion groups about death and dying and he refused to “wither,” choosing instead to “narrate” the process of dying. This unusual attitude led to unusual events. After attending a friend’s funeral, Morrie felt that the time had been a waste because the deceased never heard all those wonderful expressions of love and friendship in life. So Morrie planned a living funeral for himself so he would be able to hear and experience all the kind things people would say to him. However, this “living funeral” was not the end of Morrie’s life. Albom ends the chapter suggesting that “the most unusual part of his life was about to unfold.”