I recently finished the tender, sweet and beautiful Tuesdays with Morrie. It really is lovely. Here are some lovely things Morrie said.
‘You have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own.‘
- When doesn’t a culture work? Remember Thich Nhat Hanh: ’If there is subservience, culture is not true culture, just a tool for controlling others.’
‘Here’s what I mean by building your own little subculture. I don’t mean you disregard every rule of your community. I don’t go around naked, for example. I don’t run through red lights. the little things, I can obey. But the big things - how we think, what we value - those you must choose yourself. You can’t let anyone - or any society - determine those for you. (…) Every society has its own problems. The way to do it isn’t to run away. You have to work at creating your own culture.
(…) Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.’
‘Morrie took more time eating and looking at nature and wasted no time in front of tv sitcoms or ‘movies of the week’. He had created a cocoon of human activities - conversation, interaction, affection - and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl.’
‘Now that I’m suffering, I feel closer to people who suffer than I ever did before. The other night, on TV, I saw people in Bosnia running across the street, getting fired upon, killed, innocent victims … and I just started to cry. I feel their anguish as if it were my own. I don’t know any of these people. But - how can I put this? - I’m almost … drawn to them.’’
His eyes got moist, and I tried to change the subject, but he dabbed his face and waved me off.
‘I cry all the time now,’ he said. ‘Never mind.’
‘The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.’
‘Love each other or perish.’
- An interpretation of the most famous line of the W. H. Auden poem September 1, 1939
‘Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? I wrote it down, but now I can recite it: devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.’
‘In business, people negotiate to win. Love is different. Love is when you are as concerned about someone else’s situations as you are about your own.’
‘Do the kind of things that come from the heart. When you do you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody’s else’s things. On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.’
‘Don’t hide your dying, accept it, keep an open heart, be alert and aware to the things that really interest you and go for it, be compassionate and treat yourself gently: you didn’t create your illness.’
And finally, let me quote a whole page:
‘In the South American rainforest, there is a tribe called the Desana, who see the world as a fixed quantity of energy that flows between all creatures. Every birth must therefore engender a death, and every death bring forth another birth. This way, the energy of the world remains complete.
When they hunt for food, the Desana know that the animals they kill will leave a hole in the spiritual well. But that hole will be filled, they believe, by the souls of the Desana hunters when they die. Were there no men dying, there would be no birds or fish being born. I like this idea. Morrie likes it, too. The closer he gets to good-bye, the more he seems to feel we are all creatures in the same forest. What we take, we must replenish.
“It’s only fair,” he says.’
It is only fair.
PS’s and further reading:
PS One more line that I didn’t quote above: ‘sitting in his presence was almost magically serene, the same calm breeze that soothed me back in college’ - cheerful serenity! Very similar to what Hesse wrote in the Glass Bead Game. Go here and here to read more, or just read this:
‘And at that moment he laid his hand on my arm - it was light as a butterfly - looked penetratingly into my eyes, and smiled. At that moment I was conquered. Something of his cheerful silence, away from words and toward music, away from ideas and toward unity.’
PPS Now that I’m suffering, I feel closer to people who suffer than I ever did before. The other night, on TV, I saw people in Bosnia running across the street, getting fired upon, killed, innocent victims … and I just started to cry. I feel their anguish as if it were my own. I don’t know any of these people. But - how can I put this? - I’m almost … drawn to them.’’
This reminds of this beautiful moment:
These Desana folks piqued my interest. Here’s a link for all you anthropology fan girls and boys out there and here are a few paragraphs that got me thinking:
Armed with these basic principles, we can begin to see how some life processes are understood in cosmological terms and how these relate to ritual practices associated with the life cycle.
Digestion, defecation, decay and death all involve a passive flow from high to low, from upstream to downstream, from West to East. Life itself is a movement, sometimes a struggle, against this current: plants grow up towards the sun and people must grow upwards as they mature. The Sun or Yeba Hakü (in barasana language), the "Father of the Universe", the source of light and life, moves constantly against the current, up the rivers of the earth from East to West by day and up the underworld river by night to appear again in the East. The Anaconda-ancestor who brought humanity to the world also travelled Sun-like from East towards the West, stopping when he reached the middle of the world. This move from East to the West was also a move upwards from water onto land. The Anaconda, an aquatic being, was the very river up which he travelled and the beings inside him only took on human form when they emerged onto dry land; before this they were "fish people", spirits in the form of feather-ornaments. Animals are referred to as wai-bükürã, "mature fishes"; logically human beings are also "mature fishes", beings that are half-way between the spirit-fishes they once were and the spirit-birds they will become.
Masa, the word for "people", is a relative concept. It can refer to one group as against another, to all Tukanoans as against their non-Tukanoan neighbours, to Indians as against White, to human beings as against animals, and finally to living things, trees included, as against inanimate objects. In myth and shamanic discourse, animals are people and share their culture: they live in organised maloca communities, plant gardens, hunt and fish, drink beer, wear ornaments, take part in inter-community feasts and play their own Yuruparí. All creatures that can see and hear, that communicate with their own kind, and that act intentionally are "people" - but people of different kinds. They are different because they have different bodies, habits and behaviours and see things from different bodily perspectives. Just as stars see living humans as dead spirits, so also do animals see humans as animals. To vulture eyes, when humans go fishing, they fish in rotting corpses and catch maggots; to jaguar eyes, humans are dangerous predators who drink blood as beer; to fish it is wonder that humans can breathe underwater. But of course humans see things the other way round.
The powers of ancestral creation infused throughout the landscape extend to the plants, fishes, animals and human beings that inhabit it and also to the objects that people make from the materials that it provides. In myth, everyday objects such as canoes, stools, baskets and pots emerge as animated beings with a potency and agency of their own - as we have already seen, just as animals may be people, so too can malocas be the bodies of their creators. Crafted objects encapsulate two kinds of potency: the powers of the natural materials from which they are made and the skills and intentions of their makers. It follows from this that making things has an important religious dimension. During their initiation rites, young men and women are systematically trained in crafting, a training that is as much intellectual and spiritual as it is technical. Making things is both self-making and world-making, a form of meditation which gives insight into the interconnectedness of objects, bodies, people, houses and the world.
Although they might be described as "religion", the cosmological ideas described above also form the premise and taken-for-granted backdrop of everyday life. This is so partly because here religion is not a discrete domain but rather an aspect or dimension of all knowledge, experience and practice. It is also so because life in a landscape imbued with ancestral powers and where ordinary things have an extra-ordinary metaphysical dimension is potentially hazardous. To survive and prosper, and to ensure the well-being of themselves and their families, all adults need some ability to handle and control the creative and destructive forces that surround them. Technical and metaphysical know-how go together and are not sharply distinguished. To sustain themselves in the local environment, adult men must know both the natural resources of their territory and also its spiritual assets and dangers, they must combine routine chores with ritual procedures, and must have a basic competence in both hunting and fishing and in the spells that render meat and fish safe to eat. Likewise women, the "mothers of food" whose manioc tubers are their "children", must manage the material and spiritual dimensions of production and reproduction, of their gardens, their kitchens and their bodies, as a single integrated whole.
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