A main theme in the book, Tuesdays with Morrie, is Mitch Albom's realization that while he has become a highly successful 30-something journalist, he has lost the vast majority of his dreams and insights he once possessed in college. His encounter and re-connection with his old, dying yet still idealistic favorite professor, Morrie, re-awakens Mitch's 'college-days' ideals.
"What happened to me? I asked myself. Morrie's voice took me back to my university years, when I thought rich people were evil, a shirt and tie were prison clothes, and life without freedom . . . was not a good life at all. . . I traded lots of dreams for a bigger paycheck, and I never even realized I was doing it. Yet, here was Morrie, talking with the wonder of our college years, as if I'd simply taken a long vacation.
'Have you found someone to share your heart with?' he asked. 'Are you giving to your community? Are you at peace with yourself? Are you trying to be as human as you can be?'
I squirmed, wanting to show I had been grappling deeply with such questions. What happened to me? . . . My days were full, yet I remained, much of the time, unsatisfied."
REMAINING YOUNG EVEN WHEN OLD
"Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul." Samuel Ullman
A friend of mine recently celebrated a birthday. He told me that although he is getting closer and closer to 40, he still feels like he is a kid. "It's strange," he said. "I always thought that once you were 35-40, you were 'over the hill'. Now I realize that whether you're over the hill or not depends on whether you still feel like climbing."
The Torah tells us that we should always feel vibrant, alive and young, no matter how many years we have lived.
King David was getting on in years. His devoted military men were discouraging him from going out to battle with them, as he had always done. They feared for his safety and strongly encouraged him to wait in his palace while they fight the attacking enemies. They also felt that King David at this stage would accomplish more for the Jewish people by creating spiritual merits through Torah study and prayer, rather than through his weakened military prowess.
They realized how difficult it might be for King David to accept their assessment and wrote in a psalm that he still "possessed youthfulness like the fresh dew… you will be a priest forever!" (Psalms, 110:4-5, based on Ibn Ezra commentary).
King David may have been old in terms of his years but he was still vibrant and young in his idealism, fervor, and drive for accomplishments. This is why he would be a priest, a loyal and dedicated servant of God, forever, no matter how old he would be.
RETAINING CHILDLIKE ENTHUSIASM
The holiest place in the world was the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. And the holiest spot in the Holy of Holies was on top of the Holy Ark, which housed the Tablets of Sinai, between the two angelic images, the keruvim. How do we know it was the holiest spot? Because it was from this place that God's voice emanated when He spoke to Moshe.
The Talmud teaches that these angelic images had the facial features of a child (Succah 5b). Why?
God is teaching us a very important lesson. If you want to be close to Him, if you want to constantly grow in holiness, you have to live like children. You must retain your youthful passion for life and live with the ideals of your youth. You must learn to be a kid again.
HOW CAN WE STAY IDEALISTIC?
Living is not easy. Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes, and as life continues with the same daily grind, our lives can easily lose the traits of enthusiasm and passion. Anything that we do constantly automatically fails to carry a natural new freshness.
The Talmud teaches that in order to maintain enthusiasm you have to constantly re-inspire yourself with all your energy (Brachot 32b). Passion will not happen by itself. There must be a daily, continuous, concerted, and energetic effort to nurture your idealism.
One method of accomplishing this is discussed by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler:
"How is it possible to negate the problem of performing Torah commandments by rote? It's not enough to merely concentrate on the idea that we must consider every mitzvah as if it is new. This alone will surely not work. Rather, only deep study and understanding will nullify the power of rote. Anything we learn and analyze profoundly will always bring forth new insights. We must find new insights in every mitzvah; then it will be like new." (Paraphrased from Michtav M'Eliyahu Volume 4, p. 339).
"Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals." -- Samuel Ullman
Just as a child constantly looks for new challenges and frontiers to conquer, so too must we. Have you ever seen the way an infant makes everything exciting? Whether it's a pot and pan, a piece of paper to crumple and suck on, or an open refrigerator, a baby makes everything look exciting and fun. Children have a way of always occupying themselves with something that interests them. We have to begin looking at things in our lives with the same youthful passion. We can't allow ourselves to get caught up in the 'rat race' and lose our ideals and passions.
We have to ask ourselves on a continuous basis: If I didn't know how old I was, how old would I be? That's how we stay young. Not by focusing on the fact that we are 'old', but on what challenges we still need to overcome, what areas of life we still need to conquer. We can't let the fact that we have had many yesterdays dampen our todays and tomorrows.
As long as we give our hearts messages of beauty, hope, joy, courage and strength, we will remain forever young.