In “The Student,” Mitch Albom discusses the conflict between Morrie’s life and his own obsessive drive to succeed as a sports journalist. “The Orientation” brings this conflict into the open.
“The Orientation” opens as Mitch Albom is in his car with a coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Albom is talking to his producer about a television clip, asking to hear a segment again. After seeing his dying professor interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline, Albom has decided to visit Morrie while in Boston. He has a few hours until his flight. Suddenly, Albom realizes that he has arrived at Morrie’s house. Although he wishes that he could circle the block a few times to finish talking to his producer, Morrie and his nurses are waiting on the lawn and have already spotted him. Albom’s obsession with success has caused him to lose sight of the importance of his relationships. Although he promised Morrie he would stay in touch after graduation, he did not. Now, instead of hanging up on his producer, he pretends he has lost his keys in the car so he can quickly conclude his business on the phone. For Albom, these gestures represent his lack of perspective on what matters. His obsession with his phone and his coffee and multitasking is symbolic of his misplaced focus.
However, in spite of Albom’s crass behavior, Morrie warmly welcomes his former student back into his life. Morrie has changed a great deal since Albom last saw him in 1979 at his college graduation. Now Morrie is wheelchair-bound, and he relies on nurses for almost everything. Morrie is dying and the strain can be seen. Albom explains:
His eyes were more sunken than I remembered them, and his cheekbones more pronounced. This gave him a harsher, older look—until he smiled.
Albom uses imagery to show the power of Morrie’s determination not to let his impending death ruin what remains of his life. When Morrie asks Albom if he would like to know what it is like to die, Albom says yes. Their last class together has begun.
In the second half of “The Orientation,” Albom recalls his early days on campus. He was young for a college freshman and attempted to make himself seem older. He wore old gray sweaters, boxed at the gym, and pretended to be a smoker. However, Morrie seemed to make him feel at ease with himself. Albom began to call Morrie “coach,” and Morrie took to the nickname, saying, “You can play all the lovely parts of life that I’m too old for now.” Even at this time, Morrie was old compared to most professors.