It's back-to-school week in Boston, and for the first time in 35 years, Morrie isn't teaching. Mitch thinks of football players who finally retire and have to deal with their first Sunday at home, watching the game instead of playing. He says he's found it's better to leave these players alone during their old seasons. For taping his conversations with Morrie, Mitch has by this point switched to clip-on microphones because Morrie is too weak to hold a microphone for any length of time. However, because Morrie is wearing loose shirts, Mitch has to constantly adjust the microphone. Morrie craves physical affection more than ever, so he enjoys the closeness brought by the microphone. Morrie is weak and wheezy.
While Mitch remarks it's strange that Morrie's not teaching, there's no indication that Morrie feels similarly to the retired sports players that Mitch mentions. In a way, Morrie is still teaching, as he continues to see Mitch for this final “class.” Morrie continues to crave touch as he declines.
The topic for the day is family, and Morrie motions to photos in his study of his family, saying his family is all around him. He says that he believes, especially now that he's sick, that family is the ultimate foundation and of the utmost importance. Morrie quotes his favorite poet, Auden, as saying "love each other or perish." Morrie expands, saying that if he were divorced or didn't have children, living with ALS would be much harder, because although friends would come visit, it wouldn't be the same as having someone who won't leave, and has an eye on you all the time. Morrie calls this spiritual security, and says that is what he missed when his mother died, and nothing but family can provide that kind of security.
For Morrie, there is nothing more important than family, even friends or his greater community. He'll mention this quote from Auden many times, and it underscores Morrie's beliefs. From the way he talks about what life would be like without family, Morrie seems to believe that he would in some spiritual way perish, as he did when he lost his mother. Note though that not all family can provide this security, though, as Morrie's father was cold and unwilling to give Morrie the affection he craved.
Mitch wonders, if he were ill like Morrie but had no family, if the emptiness would be unbearable. Mitch mentions Morrie's sons, who are, like Morrie, extremely loving and affectionate, but whom Morrie instructed to not stop their lives to take care of him, showing respect for their autonomous lives. Morrie says that when people ask about having children or not, he never tells them what to choose, but just tells them instead that there's no experience like having children because of the deep bond between parent and child. When Mitch asks Morrie if he'd have children again, Morrie replies that he'd definitely do it again, despite the pain he experiences knowing he's going to die and leave them. At that, Morrie begins to cry.
Morrie's display of emotion shows just how important family is to him—the thought of leaving his family brings him to tears. His response to the question of having kids underscores Morrie's feelings on the importance of family in general.
Morrie then asks Mitch about his own family, and Mitch confirms that he has an older sister and a younger brother, both of whom were at his graduation 16 years ago. Mitch pauses as he remembers taking pictures at graduation, and suddenly goes quiet.
Mitch's pause leads the reader to think that Morrie's outlook on family, while rosy and lovely, might not be true for everyone. This further differentiates between Mitch and Morrie.
Mitch steps out of his conversation with Morrie to tell the reader about his brother, Peter. Peter was a dramatic child and wanted to be an actor or a singer when he grew up. While Mitch was a perfect student and child, Peter broke rules and experimented with alcohol and drugs, although he remained the family favorite. He moved to Europe after high school, and when he visited, Mitch felt stiff and conservative in comparison.
Mitch's comparison of himself to Peter complicates the idea of family. Despite being worse behaved and moving far away, Peter is still the favorite in Mitch's family.
After the death of his uncle,Mitch always believed that he was destined to die an awful and untimely death as well. However, the same rare form of pancreatic cancer that killed his uncle struck Peter instead. Mitch battled the thought that it was supposed to be him, not Peter, as Peter fought cancer in Spain and Europe with the help of an experimental drug. After five years of treatment, Peter went into remission.
The fact that Peter gets cancer completely offends Mitch's sense of justice and how the world works. We see in this just how much Mitch aligned himself with his uncle, down to the way he believed he was going to die, and how very different he feels from his brother. Peter rejects family as he battles his illness, exactly the opposite of Morrie.
Peter didn't want any support from his family, insisting that he needed to deal with the cancer himself. Mitch felt immense guilt for not helping like he felt he should be, and also anger because Peter wouldn't allow him to help anyway. To deal with the guilt and anger, Mitch worked, because it made him feel in control of something. Mitch muses that possibly, Morrie was aware of Mitch's emotions regarding Peter, and allowed Mitch to help and be with Morrie in the way that Peter wouldn't allow.
This is happening in the past, several years before Mitch reconnects with Morrie. Notice that Mitch wants to perform his familial duty and help his brother, like Morrie would've wanted, well before Morrie and Mitch have their conversation about family. The comment about Morrie's perception of Mitch's emotions points to their relationship becoming more familial.
Mitch recounts a childhood memory of sledding with Peter. They hit ice as they sled down the hill, and notice a car and try to steer away from it, but the sled is unresponsive. They jump off and roll, sure the car is going to hit them. It doesn't, and the two are exhilarated by this brush with death.
A childhood experience of danger and death brings Mitch and Peter closer together. It's exciting, and the way the anecdote is written makes it seem as though they weren't in as much danger as they thought. This is a major contrast to how they deal with death later—by growing apart.