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A Lesson Plan for a Fulfilling Life

Books / Speed Read

January 15, 1998|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Yuck. Who wants to read about dying? Only about a quarter of a million people so far, which has propelled "Tuesdays With Morrie" by Mitch Albom (Doubleday, 192 pages, $19.95) into its 14th printing after nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. And a movie, produced by Oprah Winfrey, is on the way.

The success of this surprisingly humorous book doubtless would delight the now-deceased elfin professor named Morrie Schwartz. For 35 years he taught sociology at Brandeis University. He gave his last course from his home, as he lay dying of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Morrie's only student in this venture was Albom, then 35, a prominent Detroit sportswriter. When Albom heard that his favorite college professor had a terminal illness, he went to visit on a Tuesday. This turned into a series of Tuesday visits, which turned into the book.

"Tuesdays With Morrie" is Morrie's lesson plan on how to live a fulfilling life. When that has been achieved, Schwartz told his student, death will hold no dread.

This is a book for people just entering prime time, those who zip down the freeway hoping they'll make partner in the firm, praying their script gets bought, wishing they'd leased a sport-ute instead of a Jetta. These are the people Morrie loved--the ones striving so hard to build a meaningful life but a bit confused sometimes about what "meaningful" means.

Don't expect a sob story here. Morrie was a great dancer and a strong-willed hoot. Here's what happened when Ted Koppel came to interview him for "Nightline" and Morrie decided to interview Koppel first:

" 'Ted, I need to check you out before I agree to do this interview.' . . . [He] motioned for Koppel to sit down. . . .

" 'Tell me something close to your heart,' Morrie began.

" 'My heart?'

"Koppel studied the old man. 'All right,' he said cautiously, and he spoke about his children . . . .

" 'Good,' Morrie said. 'Now tell me something about your faith.'

"Koppel was uncomfortable. 'I usually don't talk about such things with people I've only known a few minutes.'

" 'Ted, I'm dying,' Morrie said, peering over his glasses. 'I don't have a lot of time here.'

"Koppel laughed . . . 'Now let me ask you something,' Koppel said. 'Have you ever seen my program?'

"Morrie shrugged. 'Twice, I think.'

" 'Twice? That's all?'

" 'Don't feel bad. I've only seen "Oprah" once.'

" 'Well, the two times you saw the show, what did you think?'

"Morrie paused. 'To be honest?'

" 'Yes.'

" 'I thought you were a narcissist.' "

Koppel laughed again. The show got made, the men became friends, and Koppel returned with his cameras two more times before Morrie died.

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