Tuesdays with Morrie is very concerned with the act of moving through time and space. Movement is treated in turn as inevitable, a privilege, scary, and necessary. Morrie is dying of ALS, a disease that progressively limits its victims’ ability to move. As such, the text is constantly updating the reader as to Morrie's current ability, or lack thereof, regarding movement. The reader is asked to consider what it means to have the ability to move through space, and what it means to lose that ability. The ability to move through time and change with age, especially, is treated as a very special thing. It is a prerequisite for then being able to love, create one's own culture, and eventually die.
The book consistently references dance as it explores movement. Morrie loved to dance in his youth and into his old age, until ALS began to take away his ability to walk. Yet, even after Morrie is confined to a wheelchair and eventually, his bed, Mitch often describes Morrie's hand movements and his thoughts in terms of dance and expressive, physical movement. Through this juxtaposition, the book both shows how age and disease diminish movement and, by extension, diminish life, but also that movement never ceases. The joy of movement remains available to Morrie, even as it diminishes. Dance and movement symbolize freedom for Morrie. However, he also finds a sense of freedom in being cared for as he loses his ability to care for himself, likening it to being a child and receiving unconditional love and care.
Movement is also explored in more metaphoric ways. At the beginning of the story, Mitch is moving at breakneck speed in his job as a sports reporter. He does a million things at once, trying to get ahead and find some sort of fulfillment. When compared to Morrie's conception of fulfillment, though, Mitch is at zero, and it isn't until he stops moving, thanks to the newspaper strike that puts him out of a newspaper job, that he can start moving in more meaningful ways. The book then makes the point that simply moving for movement's sake, or for the wrong goals, provides no joy. It is purposeful movement, motivated by engagement with the world, with others, and with one's own true desires, that brings joy and fulfillment.
The text focuses as well on movement through time and space in larger increments. Flashbacks take the reader back in time to Morrie and Mitch's younger days, and each week, Mitch travels 700 miles to visit Morrie. Mitch's physical travels outside of Detroit also bring him to internal places of decision-making, change, and growth. It is through his visits with Morrie that he is able to evaluate his current lifestyle and make changes for the better. The act of physical movement, then, becomes the overarching external action that causes internal reflection and change. In particular, the vignettes from Mitch and Morrie's early relationship stand in stark contrast to the person that Mitch became later in life. The vignettes show Mitch as a sensitive and idealistic person, while the present Mitch is hardened and materialistic. Yet, the book also suggests that he is capable of change, as his relationship and his lessons with Morrie show him returning to a more fulfilling way of living.
The book, then, shows that movement and change are always possible, even when they seem impossible. Just as Morrie's hands and thoughts can still dance despite not being able to roll over in bed or use the toilet unassisted, Mitch is able to change the course of his life despite it seeming as though his choices have locked him into a certain life. The reader is presented with the idea that movement and change are critically important, and that the two are prerequisites for being able to love, interact with and create culture, and ultimately, to face the final change of life: death.
Movement and Change ThemeTracker
Movement and Change Quotes in Tuesdays with Morrie
"Mitch, you are one of the good ones," he says, admiring the briefcase. Then he hugs me. I feel his thin arms around my back. I am taller than he is, and when he holds me, I feel awkward, older, as if I were the parent and he were the child.
Instead, he would make death his final project, the center point of his days. Since everyone was going to die, he could be of great value, right? He could be research. A human textbook. Study me in my slow and patient demise. Watch what happens to me. Learn with me.
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.
And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn't work, don't buy it.
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.
“I'm going to say it again,” he said. “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” He smiled, and I realized what he was doing. He was making sure I absorbed this point, without embarrassing me by asking. It was part of what made him a good teacher.
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.