In “The Classroom,” Mitch and Morrie have their first discussion about the meaning of life, but it is only preliminary. Albom uses this chapter to highlight some of the conflicts that drive his discussion of life in America. Surprisingly, Morrie seems to be happier in his state of dying than Albom is in his state of health and success. Morrie is surrounded by people who care about him. Over the years, he has influenced the minds of many students and others; Mitch is not the only one to have returned to pay his respects or to reconnect with the old professor.
It cannot be denied that Morrie is dying. Albom recalls how his mentor struggled to eat. Morrie even explains that he will die of suffocation. ALS has already taken Morrie’s legs. Because he is asthmatic, when the ALS begins to affect his lungs, Morrie will die. He invites Mitch to exhale while counting, and Mitch is able to reach seventy. Morrie, in contrast, can only reach eighteen. He was able to reach twenty-three when he was first diagnosed. Morrie explains that he has become a symbolic bridge to people. He is not quite dead, but he is not as alive as most people around him are. Because dying is the final journey people take, many are curious about what they should “pack.”
At times during this conversation, Mitch feels awkward, but he and Morrie have a few moments that recall their former closeness, including when Mitch suddenly refers to Morrie as his coach. Morrie immediately admits that he is still Mitch’s coach. He here gives Albom advice that would haunt the younger man. He suggests:
The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.
As the two part, Morrie invites Mitch to keep in touch, just as he did at Mitch’s college graduation. This time, Albom will keep his promise to return.
The second half of “The Classroom” recalls Mitch’s early relationship with Morrie. While buying books from Morrie’s class reading list, he felt lost about his identity. Morrie explained the “tension of opposites,” an idea that refers to the way people negotiate conflicted loyalties in life. Mitch likened this to wrestling and asks which side wins. Morrie replied that love wins every conflict. However, by the end of the 1990s, Albom seems to have lost sight of the tension of opposites and has lost the ability to let love win any of his personal conflicts, which is perhaps why he feels insecure about his success around Morrie.