In Conversation with Rob Schwartz, Editor of The Wisdom of Morrie and Son of Morrie Schwartz from Tuesdays with Morrie
Happy New Year!
I’m kicking off 2024 with a January blog post that is filled with smart advice to get you thinking about growing older in a vibrant way.
First, let’s flash back to 1996…
It was the year Tuesdays with Morrie was published. I remember reading the book and liking it. However I was in my late 30s then and senior hood was not something that occupied my mind.
The story chronicles the relationship between Morrie, a dying college professor who was diagnosed with ALS and his student, Mitch Albom, At the time, Mitch did a great job of capturing Morrie’s endearing advice for living before he passed away. It became a bestseller in 1998 when Oprah discovered the story and selected it for her Book of the Month Club.
Fast forward to fall 2023…
“Would you like to review The Wisdom of Morrie?” asked the Goody PR publicist. “Morrie wrote the book before he died. His son Rob Schwartz discovered the manuscript in his dad’s desk and is also its editor. “That sounds like a winner,” I said. “I absolutely would like to take a look.”
Now that I’m a senior (closer to 70 than 60 after this month’s birthday), I’m even more eager to hear what Professor Morrie has to say about aging joyfully and creatively later in life.
A new book from the subject of Tuesdays with Morrie
In December, I had the opportunity to talk with Rob Schwartz about The Wisdom of Morrie and what it was like to grow up in the Schwartz household with such a wise dad. What follows is an edited excerpt from our conversation.
Plus, since I’m a big Morrie fan, I’m offering a giveaway for The Wisdom of Morrie. Be sure to enter below.
Let’s hear from Rob:
Why did you decide to edit and publish your dad’s last book?
Rob: “It’s a long story. It goes all the way back to when my father was writing this book in 1988 and onwards. In 1989, I was back at home for about 3 months. I had an opportunity to talk to him about his ideas. He was very interested in what I had to say despite that I was not the target audience. He felt like this was the summation of his life’s work.
Tuesdays with Morrie was not even a gleam in Mitch’s eye. My dad didn’t have ALS yet. I moved to Japan in the beginning of 1990 and then dad got sick. I was going back and forth between Japan and Boston. He passed away and Tuesdays with Morrie was published.
Years after he passed, I was in his study and I pulled open a drawer and saw the manuscript. I knew exactly what it was because I had talked with him in depth about it. Keep in mind that this was after Tuesdays with Morrie had been on the bestseller list for many years. As a journalist, I realized that we had an opportunity to actually publish this book even though my father was not able to.
I think it offers valuable insights about aging for everybody about living creatively and joyously. So I was eager to publish it.
You said your dad wrote this book before he took ill. Do you think he saw life differently after his illness?
Rob: “If you compare this book with Tuesdays with Morrie, you’ll see that there’s not that much difference. I would say ‘no’ he wouldn’t change his outlook too much. In fact, if you look at the way that he lived after he got ill it’s a great example of one of his pieces of advice in Tuesdays with Morrie. It’s that you take what resources you have and you live as joyfully and creatively as you can in the time you have. That’s one thing that he talks about in The Wisdom with Morrie and that’s exactly what he did at the time he got ill. I think that the two books are pretty unified.
If you liked Tuesdays with Morrie I think you’ll find a lot of resonance with The Wisdom of Morrie.”
Times have changed since the 1990s, especially with everything we went through with the pandemic. Even for you, did that give you a different perspective when you edited the manuscript?
Rob: “The Wisdom of Morrie talks about how you have to maintain your relationships in a loving way and certainly that would pertain to meeting people face-to-face. Obviously that was difficult during the pandemic. So I would say that my father would emphasis that even more post-Covid.
My father did write this book a long time ago but if you read it I think you’ll find the ideas are prescient. They are things we’re starting to discuss now as a society. Ageism is sort of one of the last “isms” to fall. Ageism is just a wrong attitude. Age is not a barrier for you to do anything and enjoy anything in life. Sometimes we have physical limitations but you can have physical limitations at any age.
One of the main motivations to write this book is to attack this ageist agenda that our society has of pushing people after a certain age aside and saying that you can’t do anything. It’s only really being addressed now. My father was quite ahead of his time in thinking about it in the late 80s and early 90s. I don’t think we’ve made a lot of progress on this issue.
I think that the writing is extremely relevant to people’s lives today.”
How old was your dad when he wrote this book?
Rob: “He would have been in his early 70s. One of the stories that I tell about the motivation is that he wrote this book when he was an extremely energetic guy, full of life and vigor. He was a social psychologist and former Brandeis University sociology professor for decades. He was also a father, husband and friend. He was used to meeting people in their teens and twenties and he lived a youthful lifestyle.
When he was 65 in the early 80s, the university suggested he retire and he said ‘no thank you.’ And when he was 68, he was at Brandeis and again the university suggested that he retire and he said ‘no thank you.’ And when he was 70 in 1986, the university said you have to retire.
This is something that no longer exists but in that day there was forced retirement at age 70. He thought it was pretty outrageous that he had to retire. He never viewed himself as an elderly person or senior because of his approach to life and his lifestyle. He realized that society viewed him that way. He had to investigate why did that make him feel uncomfortable and he realized that these ageist attitudes that existed and exist today are just silly.
We need to combat these attitudes and convince people that you can do whatever you set your mind to within certain physical limitations.
He believed you should undertake projects that excite you. Whatever interests excite you pursue them and don’t worry if you are going to finish it through. It’s the process of engaging in them and engaging with people who are interested in the same things as you that gives your life meaning and joy.
My father thought it was important to explain that to people. And that was the motivation to write this book.”
What was your dad really saying about aging — if you could sum it up in a few words?
Rob: “I think that he would say aging is not a barrier to living creatively or joyfully. Certainly there are limitations for all of us in different ways but a simple number that you happen to be is not one of them. Society impresses that idea and it’s wrong. He would say that you can live as joyfully and creatively and fully as you’re able to at any age and he gives advice and techniques on how to do that in The Wisdom of Morrie.
What was it like growing up with a dad who was full of wisdom?
Rob: “From the perspective of a child or pre-teen — you don’t realize what a remarkable father you have. My father was a university professor and I would often go to the university with him. Students would always come up to me and say ‘OMG your father is so amazing, wish my father was like that.’ They would heap praise on him.
As a boy, I was like ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about…he doesn’t let me do this or that.’ In retrospect, I can see it is absolutely true. He was a very involved, very loving father and very sensitive as well. It really was wonderful having him as a father.”
Have you taken any of your dad’s advice? How has his wisdom impacted your own aging?
Rob: “I constantly live with his advice because he raised me. I might be just around the target audience for this book. But senior keeps moving up past 65. I try to remain as involved and connected to life as possible. I have new projects, which my father suggests and I try and maintain my relationships whether they are familial or friendships. He is part of my life for sure.”
Anything else to add?
Rob: “I think there are many techniques and lots of advice in The Wisdom of Morrie that can help people. You don’t have to do everything. There are suggestions that may work for some and not for others. It’s important to read the book and decide what works for you.
When you get to be a little older you have certain things that nag at you. My father has a whole section on regret. I think we all have regrets. So it’s important to think about regret and take a look at his advice.”
Thanks Rob and thank you Morrie for all your words of wisdom.
Enter the giveaway for The Wisdom of Morrie
How are you embracing one of Morrie’s five secrets for living a long and happy life? Leave a comment or enter the Rafflecopter below to enter the giveaway. (USA residents only.)