"Love each other or perish" is Morrie's favorite line by poet W. H. Auden, and it is the guiding philosophy of Morrie's life. He believes there is nothing as important as relationships with friends, family, and community. The text provides some nuances as to how that love is expressed by questioning if love is still valid and useful if it's harder to see. Watching Morrie's relationships evolve throughout his life asks the reader to consider the degree of validity for those statements.
Morrie comes back again and again to the importance of community and family, especially in light of his deteriorating health. Morrie's self-created culture is, at its heart, about prioritizing people and relationships over accumulating material things. He makes a point to receive as many visitors as possible and reply to much of the mail he gets following the Nightline interview. This interaction with his greater community is vitally important to Morrie, as he uses his community to spread what he's learned about life and death. By interacting with his community in this way, he never has to truly give up teaching.
Family is held up as being immensely important, even more so than platonic friends. The reader is asked to consider the difference between the way that Morrie's family functions and the way that Mitch's family functions. Morrie's immediate family is very close; his sons and his wife, Charlotte, are around to support him through his illness. Morrie believes deeply in familial responsibility, saying that his family can't choose not to support him through his illness like a friend could. Because of this, he places a great degree of emphasis on the decisions to marry and have children when Mitch brings up the topic. On the other hand, Mitch's brother, Peter, moved to Spain and is battling cancer mostly estranged from Mitch and the rest of their family. The text does present a hopeful tone for repairing relationships with family, however. After Morrie's death, Mitch is finally able to reach out successfully to Peter with a message of love and compassion, and Peter is responsive to that.
Love is a central tenet of Morrie's philosophy, and as the book follows the vignettes through his early life, it shows both how he was highly motivated by a desire to love and be loved, and how that desire is universal. When Morrie was very young, his affectionate mother dies and he is left longing for love and affection from his colder and more reserved father, Charlie. He finally receives parental affection from Eva, his stepmother. Later in life, when he creates his own family with Charlotte and has two sons, he vows to give them the love that he never got from his own father. In this way, love is the ultimate motivator for Morrie's actions throughout the scope of the book as well as throughout his life. Mitch as well is motivated by love. His relationship with Morrie while at school flourishes in part because Morrie meets Mitch where he is in life, responding to Mitch's desire to be heard and supported in his dreams and desires.
In the end, it is Mitch's love and respect for Morrie that brings about the positive changes in Mitch's life, and which motivates Mitch to capture and explain the lessons he has learned from Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie. Morrie's love and support allows Mitch to more fully embrace his life, his goals, and his ability to love and be open and vulnerable to those whom he loves. Throughout the text, Mitch notes that Morrie has an unshakable belief that Mitch is still the kind and sensitive person he was when he was in school, and the love and community he experiences with Morrie allows him to return in some form to that person. The book seeks also to do that for the reader, giving readers the tools to be loving and compassionate, and in so doing to become a more fulfilled individual.
Love, Family, and Community ThemeTracker
Love, Family, and Community Quotes in Tuesdays with Morrie
After the funeral, my life changed. I felt as if time were suddenly precious, water going down an open drain, and I could not move quickly enough.
Instead, I buried myself in accomplishments, because with accomplishments, I believed I could control things, I could squeeze in every last piece of happiness before I got sick and died, like my uncle before me, which I figured was my natural fate.
I knew there was plenty of food at the house, but I wanted to contribute something. I was so powerless to help Morrie otherwise. And I remembered his fondness for eating.
Holding him like that moved me in a way I cannot describe, except to say I felt the seeds of death inside his shriveling frame, and as I laid him in his chair, adjusting his head on the pillows, I had the coldest realization that our time was running out.
And I had to do something.
“If you don't have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don't have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, 'Love each other or perish.'”
Morrie observed that most of the patients there had been rejected and ignored in their lives, made to feel that they didn't exist. They also missed compassion—something the staff ran out of quickly. And many of these patients were well-off, from rich families, so their wealth did not buy them happiness or contentment.
As my wife's loving voice filled the room, a crescent smile appeared on his face. And while his body was stiff as a sandbag, you could almost see him dancing inside it.
“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “But here's the secret: in between, we need others as well.”
Then I'd go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven't seen in so long now.
In the evening, we'd all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck—I love duck—and then we'd dance the rest of the night. I'd dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted.
I blinked back the tears, and he smacked his lips together and raised his eyebrows at the sight of my face. I like to think it was a fleeting moment of satisfaction for my dear old professor: He had finally made me cry.
The last class of my old professor's life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesdays. No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience.
The teaching goes on.