Once You Learn How to Die….

By Shlomo Maital

    Once, in my younger days,  I started writing a book, with the presumptuous title How to Live.  It soon occurred to me that – I really had no idea. 

    Recently my wife brought home Mitch Albom’s 1997 best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie, picked up from the library’s freebie give-away pile.  This book is about journalist Albom’s weekly visits with his former professor Morrie Schwartz, who was dying of amyotrophic lateral syndrome (ALS), or Gehrig’s Disease.  I randomly read the chapter titled: The Fourth Tuesday: We Talk About Death.

    The key message:  “The truth is, Mitch,”  Schwartz said, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live”. 


       Here is Schwartz’s explanation.  “Because most of us walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.”

        And, facing death changes all that?  Albom asks.

       “Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you are going to die, you see everything much differently.   The things you spend so much time on –  all the work you do – might not seem as important. You might have to make room for some more spiritual things….. Mitch, the loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take those things for granted.”

         When I teach “effective creativity”, I try to explain a tool developed by the world’s great management consultant Peter Drucker – abandonment.  To make room for new things, get rid of old baggage.  Or, in other words, subtraction.  Innovation starts not by adding new stuff, but by getting rid of old stuff, that creates no value.

         I read in the New York Times that young people, after a year of isolation and work-at-home, are pursuing Morrie’s idea.  They are no longer eager to return to the 24/7 frantic pace of pre-pandemic.  They have rediscovered their kids and spouses.  It took a global epidemic. 

          So – thanks Morrie, and thanks Mitch, for putting his wise words on paper.  There is indeed time to read old books.  There is time to practice subtraction – what am I doing that would make me and my loved ones better off if I could stop doing them?   And there is time to value every single day and make it count.   Because, if today was indeed our last on earth, and nobody really wants that —  well, it should count, right?

        I have a very close friend who has refocused his life, by …. Seeking and appreciating beauty.  Wherever it is.  The fruits of this small exercise are remarkable.