By now, fall has officially arrived and Mitch notices the trees changing color as he drives from the airport. He says that in Detroit, the strike continues and both sides are digging in and accusing each other of not communicating. Mitch says that stories in the news are equally depressing—a teenage girl was hit by a thrown tombstone as she drove with her family on a religious pilgrimage, and the US is still entirely obsessed with the coming conclusion of the O.J. Simpson trial, which is being broadcast even in the airport. Mitch even tried calling his brother and left several heartfelt messages asking to talk, but Peter replied that he was okay but didn't want to talk.
Mitch is noticing the outside world and nature more, which aligns him more with Morrie's style of culture. Media culture is again invoked as a major negative entity, and an omnipresent one as the O.J. Simpson trial is now in every airport. There's no escaping the media and its associated negativity. Mitch shows positive change as he's reaching out to Peter, but that situation remains stalled and negative.
Morrie seems to be melting into his chair as he declines. He now has a catheter and can no longer move his head, although he insists on spending his days in his study so he can watch his hibiscus plant, saying to Mitch "when you're in bed, you're dead."
Despite being entirely dependent on people or medical assistance for everything, Morrie insists on being as up and aboutas possible. He equates being mobile with life.
Morrie tells Mitch that Koppel wants to do another show with him, but they want to wait a while. Mitch is offended by this and feels they're using Morrie, but Morrie says it's okay because even if they're just looking for drama, Morrie's using them to spread his message to millions of people. However, since his voice is now at risk, he told Nightline that they'll have to come back soon. Morrie is already having to turn visitors away because he believes that he can't help them if he's incapable of giving them the appropriate attention. Mitch feels guilty then about the tape recorder and offers to skip the visit, but Morrie declines. He says that this is their last thesis and they have to get it right.
Morrie is very aware of his symbiotic relationship with the media, despite his scorn for it and the book's general negative portrayal of the media. The fact that Mitch is offended shows how far he's come in his transformation—he's valuing a person over profit. Morrie's unwillingness to accept visitors shows just how far he's declined, as helping people has been Morrie's one goal for the entirety of the book. We see, though, just how much Morrie values Mitch and this project, since he doesn't want to cancel Mitch's visits.
Mitch thinks about his first thesis with Morrie and the encouragement he received from Morrie to write it. He considers the current situation, thinking that this time, he's not in so much of a hurry to finish this thesis.
Mitch is valuing the process, relationship, and mentoring he's receiving from Morrie over the finished project. He knows the project will end when Morrie dies.
Morrie says that the day before, someone asked him if he worried about being forgotten after he died. He says he doesn't think he will be because of the close relationships he's had with people. Mitch comments that it sounds like a song lyric, but Morrie counters by asking Mitch if he ever hears Morrie's voice in his head. Mitch admits he does, which Morrie says proves his point that he won't be forgotten. He then reminds Mitch that it's okay to cry.
Morrie understands the power of the student/teacher relationship. He knows that this is how he'll live on, thanks to the impression he made on his students' lives throughout the years, including Mitch. Morrie believes that a good teacher keeps teaching when their students internalize their lessons enough to hear their voice when they're not around.
Morrie has decided what he wants on his tombstone: “A Teacher to the Last.”Mitch agrees that it's a perfect phrase for the tombstone.
This sentiment can be seen as the thesis for the entire book, as it brings the teacher/student relationship full circle.
Mitch takes a moment to step out of the narrative and talk about how Morrie makes everyone feel special when they're with him. He knows how to pay attention and listen to people because he believes in being fully present. Mitch remembers that Morrie taught this idea in one of his classes at Brandeis, and at the time Mitch had scoffed at what seemed like such a silly topic. Now though, he sees how self-absorbed his generation is and thinks they could benefit from this lesson.
Mitch's comment about his generation mimics the way Morrie critiques modern culture. Mitch, through the time he spends with Morrie, sees the value in being present and paying attention, and sees what a positive effect it has on those people Morrie spends time with. He acknowledges he's changed and absorbed the lesson, even though it took 16 years.
Mitch returns to the conversation. After motioning for Mitch's hand, Morrie says the problem is that everyone's in a hurry to go and acquire material goods. Morrie relates how when he could still drive, if there was someone who wanted to get in front of him, he'd raise a hand as though to make a rude gesture, and instead, he'd wave and smile at the people in the passing car. He said that they'd often smile back.
Morrie is playing on people's expectations and subverting them, with surprisingly positive results. This shows that despite Morrie saying consistently that the general populace is in some way emotionally deficient, they're open to changes for the better when they receive kindness.
Mitch partly returns to his reverie, saying that Morrie was always ready to display emotion and truly listen to people. People loved him because of the attention he paid to them. Mitch tells Morrie that he's the father everyone wishes they had.
This sentiment underscores the importance of family in the book by conflating this type of extremely positive listening with a family member.
Stepping back in time, Mitch tells the reader the story of Morrie's father's death. Every day after dinner, Charlie would go for a walk, and as a child Morriewatched him go and wished for affection from him. He never received it, and Morrie decided he'd always show affection for his own children when he had them. Years later, while Morrie raised his own family, Charlie continued to live in the Bronx. One night, while he was on his walk, two robbers accosted him and pulled a gun. Charlie threw down his wallet and ran all the way to a relative's house, where he collapsed on the porch with a heart attack and died.
The love, or the lack thereof, that he received as a child is what motivates Morrie to raise his children a certain way as an adult. Notice too that Charlie dies terrified, in a moment of fear, which is exactly what Morrie says he doesn't want to happen to himself. This draws further comparisons between Morrie and Charlie, and adds more depth and nuance to the idea of fathers and how they function within families.
Morrie was called to New York to identify the body. He looked at his father through the cold glass and confirmed that it was indeed Charlie. Morrie was so horrified, he couldn't even cry, but the experience made it clear to Morrie that when he himself died, he wanted it to be warm and for everyone to say the goodbyes they needed to say. He didn't want his family finding out from a phone call or a telegram.
Morrie consciously makes the same comparison between himself and his father. This experience of cold horror renders Morrie unable to experience any emotion but fear, and it further leads him to realize the importance of having his family around when he dies.
Mitch continues to research different cultures' view on death, and he shares the views of the Desana people, a South American rainforest tribe. They believe the world has a fixed quantity of energy, so that every birth equals a death elsewhere and vice versa. Both Mitch and Morrie like this idea, and Mitch says that Morrie seems to feel more and more like the Dasana do as time goes on.
The final statement here raises the question of where Morrie believes his “energy” will go when he dies—perhaps into his family members, friends, and students.