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The Sixth Tuesday We Talk About Emotions

I walked past the mountain laurels and the Japanese maple, up the bluestone steps of Morrie's house. The white rain gutter hung like a lid over the doorway. I rang the bell and was greeted not by Connie but by Morrie's wife, Charlotte, a beautiful gray-haired woman who spoke in a lilting voice. She was not often at home when I came by-she continued working at MIT, as Morrie wished-and I was surprised this morning to see her.

"Morrie's having a bit of a hard time today," she said. She stared over my shoulder for a moment, then moved toward the kitchen.

I'm sorry, I said.

"No, no, he'll be happy to see you," she said quickly. "Sure . . ."

She stopped in the middle of the sentence, turning her head slightly, listening for something. Then she continued. "I'm sure . . . he'll feel better when he knows you're here."

I lifted up the bags from the market-my normal food supply, I said jokingly-and she seemed to smile and fret at the same time.

"There's already so much food. He hasn't eaten any from last time."

This took me by surprise. He hasn't eaten any, I asked?

She opened the refrigerator and I saw familiar containers of chicken salad, vermicelli, vegetables, stuffed squash, all things I had brought for Morrie. She opened the freezer and there was even more.

"Morrie can't eat most of this food. It's too hard for him to swallow. He has to eat soft things and liquid drinks now."

But he never said anything, I said.

Charlotte smiled. "He doesn't want to hurt your feelings."

It wouldn't have hurt my feelings. I just wanted to help in some way. I mean, I just wanted to bring him something . . .

"You are bringing him something. He looks forward to your visits. He talks about having to do this project with you, how he has to concentrate and put the time aside. I think it's giving him a good sense of purpose . . ."

Again, she gave that faraway look, the tuning-in-something-from-somewhere-else. I knew Morrie's nights were becoming difficult, that he didn't sleep through them, and that meant Charlotte often did not sleep through them either. Sometimes Morrie would lie awake coughing for hours-it would take that long to get the phlegm from his throat. There were health care workers now staying through the night and all those visitors during the day, former students, fellow professors, meditation teachers, tramping in and out of the house. On some days, Morrie had a half a dozen visitors, and they were often there when Charlotte returned from work. She handled it with patience, even though all these outsiders were soaking up her precious minutes with Morrie.

". . . a sense of purpose," she continued. "Yes. That's good, you know."

"I hope so," I said.

I helped put the new food inside the refrigerator. The kitchen counter had all kinds of notes, messages, information, medical instructions. The table held more pill bottles than ever-Selestone for his asthma, Ativan to help him sleep, naproxen for infections-along with a powdered milk mix and laxatives. From down the hall, we heard the sound of a door open.

"Maybe he's available now . . . let me go check."

Charlotte glanced again at my food and I felt suddenly ashamed. All these reminders of things Morrie would never enjoy.


The small horrors of his illness were growing, and when I finally sat down with Morrie, he was coughing more than usual, a dry, dusty cough that shook his chest and made his head jerk forward. After one violent surge, he stopped, closed his eyes, and took a breath. I sat quietly because I thought he was recovering from his exertion.

"Is the tape on?" he said suddenly, his eyes still closed.

Yes, yes, I quickly said, pressing down the play and record buttons.

"What I'm doing now," he continued, his eyes still closed, "is detaching myself from the experience."

Detaching yourself?

"Yes. Detaching myself. And this is important-not just for someone like me, who is dying, but for someone like you, who is perfectly healthy. Learn to detach."

He opened his eyes. He exhaled. "You know what the Buddhists say? Don't cling to things, because everything is impermanent."

But wait, I said. Aren't you always talking about experiencing life? All the good emotions, all the bad ones?

"Yes. "

Well, how can you do that if you're detached?

"Ah. You're thinking, Mitch. But detachment doesn't mean you don't let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That's how you are able to leave it."

I'm lost.

"Take any emotion-love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I'm ............

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