Another post I started years ago, but never knew exactly where to take it. I'm revisiting it today, after learning that my Morrie suffered a serious stroke earlier this week and will be transferred to hospice care tomorrow. From here to the dotted line is (largely) old stuff...and new stuff after the dots. It's a disjointed and stream-of-consciousness post.
So be it.
Remember when Tuesdays with Morrie was all the rage, like 15+ years ago? The book? The TV movie? The episode of Will & Grace?
I don't think I ever read the book, though at that time I probably wasn't at an age where its message would have moved me in the way it was meant to. I'm sure I would have appreciated the story, in general...I mean I am a sucker for respecting my teachers and listening to authority figures and all that other oldest-child nonsense. But would I really have appreciated it? Probably not as much as I would at this stage in my life. Remind me to revisit that book.
|The Scholars Walk - Honoring the U's greatest minds|
One of the core responsibilities of my previous job was to work to increase the number of University of Minnesota faculty members being nominated for (and hopefully winning) prestigious national awards. Seeing that the only people allowed to nominate other people for these prestigious national awards are people who have already won said prestigious national awards, sometimes it felt a lot like being asked to push buttons and pull levers on a machine I wasn't actually allowed to touch.
Fortunately, I had a wonderful accomplice in all of this award business: my very own "Morrie." Let me tell you about him...
My Morrie is an emeritus professor in the hard sciences, here at the University of Minnesota. This past September marked his 51st year at the U.
My Morrie is a successful and well-regarded scholar who has been invited to teach and lecture all over the world. When people greet him, you can feel admiration and respect emanating through their words, posture and demeanor. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
My Morrie served in World War II. He attended a Big Ten University as part of the GI Bill. His graduate and his post-doctoral work were done at some of our nation's finest public research universities.
My Morrie likes to read Science and Nature to "keep up on the gossip." He says it's like People...but for scientists...without all the drunken starlets (usually).
My Morrie refers to marriage as an "unnatural institution," incredulously saying "it makes absolutely no sense...it shouldn't work at all." He has been married for (I believe) over 55 years, and when he speaks his wife's name, the reverence and adoration is palpable.
My Morrie has a Schnauzer that he loves more than anything...except his children. And he glows when he talks about his grandchildren.
My Morrie loves to reminisce about growing up in New York. He tells stories about sleeping out on the fire escape on hot summer nights and describes how the neighborhoods have changed over the years. Even though he has lived in Minnesota for over 50 years, he can still recommend tons of great things to do in the city.
My Morrie grows beautiful orchids and cooks amazing meals. Jay and I were lucky enough to be the dinner guests of he and his wife one night last winter. It was a magical evening. As Jay and I drove home we looked at each other and said, "I wish we could have dinner with them every week!"
My Morrie brings me stories--clipped out of actual newspapers--about the red and white quilt show...and articles from American Scientist on the physics of pitching. He convinced me to watch Friday Night Lights. He said I'd love it. I did.
My Morrie played clarinet in a Klezmer band. He can sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in Yiddish. And he's a Twins fan.
My Morrie rocks.
When I originally started the post, I suppose I was going to write a big TL;DR about how different and yet similar we are. And I was going to have some grand final point about all that. But that sort of self-serving regurgitation doesn't feel right, right now. So I'll just say this:
Marty and I bonded from the start. I think it was at our second meeting...he'd asked me to provide a list of faculty at the University of Minnesota who were members of the prestigious national academies. I'd printed off names from a database...a list that went from present day all the way back to the early-ish 1900s...presented in chronological order, of course. Instead of flipping to the more recent names (which I assumed he'd do), he started at the beginning...going through the list of award winners saying, "He's dead...he's dead...he's been dead for years..." checking off each name off as he went.
"All these people are dead!" he exclaimed, exasperatedly flipping through the stack of paper.
"Jeez, Marty," I teased, "You're kinda bumming me out!"
I smiled at him.
He eyed me carefully...a little stunned, a lot amused.
He smiled broadly.
He turned to a more recent section of the list, and we proceeded with our task.
And that's how it went. From that day forward.
As we did our awards work, Marty and I formed a robust connection. After I left my previous job, he and I continued to meet for lunch...usually about once a month...just for fun. We sit (for longer than is wise for me to commit to in print, lest anyone who supervises me read this post) at the Campus Club and talk about everything under the sun.
He talks about having grown-up children. I talk about having a new baby.
He talks about his faith. I talk about my lack thereof.
He talks about how administrators mess everything up. I remind him that faculty are no picnic either.
After I graduated and had been working for awhile, he grilled me about whether or not I was using my PhD and challenging myself enough intellectually. I was forced to confront decisions I've made and how I feel about my life at this point.
During the fight against the marriage amendment, I pushed him on his "definition" of marriage and encouraged him to think about why he holds the views he does. He voted "no", and was quite proud to tell me how he arrived at that decision.
He'll sit and look through as many pictures of my dog as he does my kid. I waited anxiously to hear the good news about his dog's treatment for cancer.
We bemoan the inconsistency of the Twins. We revel in what a perfect sport baseball is.
We complain about the weather. We are mystified by the majesty of the seasons.
We grumble about the shortcomings of society. We marvel at the beauty of humanity.
We exist on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
We are over 45 years apart in age.
I've heard stories about how tough-as-nails he was as a professor and advisor. I've only ever known him as a lovable softy.
He hugs me hello when we greet each other.
He kisses me on the cheek when we say goodbye.
I watch him as he walks away, a little hunched over...his stride hindered by the cadence of a bad hip.
I choke back tears, because some little nagging thing always reminds me that this could be the last time I see him.
December 16, 2013 was our last lunch together.
Good god--and thank God--was it a long one.