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SPRING

7th March


"Well, Mitch it is then," replied Morrie. "I hope that one day you will think of me as your friend." So begins their relationship.

Mitch does all of Morrie's classes; he is an inspiring teacher who tries zany things to get through to his students and keep their interest. Morrie loves to dance and turns up to student bops in sweat pants and dances emphatically in wild solos to everything from Jimi Hendrix to Frank Sinatra. Mitch becomes enchanted with Morrie. After three years they do indeed become friends. At graduation he promises Morrie that they will stay in touch - a promise that is broken almost as soon as it is made. They do not see each other or speak until years later.

After trying and failing to become a professional jazz musician, Mitch throws himself into a career in journalism. He becomes a sports writer of national prominence and pursues success in a driven way. Yet, he finds only fleeting fulfilment. Then one night the face of his old mentor appears on the TV screen. Morrie is being interviewed for Ted Koppel's programme Nightline, which is something close to our own Newsnight. Morrie is dying of a terrible wasting disease. The TV programme's headline reads: "A professor's final course: his own death". Mitch vows to get back in contact with Morrie and in doing so begins to re-think his aspirations and what his life has become.

The second story, of course, is Morrie's. Morrie was the son of a Jewish immigrant and spent his youth living in a poor neighbourhood in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

 


He finds his vocation as a teacher. He possessed an incredible capacity to communicate to his students his love of thinking and reading. During the Vietnam War a minor crisis was precipitated because almost an entire class of students in the sociology department was about to fail. They had spent their time on demonstrations neglecting Durkheim and Weber; Morrie had taught them well. Failure would mean that the male students would be immediately drafted into the army. The sociology department didn't know what to do. Failing these students at the exam board would mean almost certainly that a proportion of them would end up in body bags. Morrie decided to give all his male students A grades regardless. No one dropped out, and the US army was denied an influx of young sociologists.

Teaching had been Morrie's life. So he set out to teach one more class in the face of death. It would be conducted as a personal tutorial with his old student who had returned to him from his life as a successful sports journalist. The lessons would take place on Tuesdays, like virtually all of the courses he had taught before. This book is not about a dying man; it is about how to live. I think it's almost impossible not to love it. Some readers whom I forced it on have suggested that the book sails too close to sentimentality. True, I sometimes yearned for Morrie to do something mean to make him a more familiar human compound of virtue and failing. But the book is not ultimately sentimental - rather, it carries real sentiment.

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SPRING - 2005


10 March