Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, December 17, 1999

Advice from a
gentleman called Morrie

EVERY year, as most of us go bonkers during this yuletide season, I recommend a book to put things in perspective. In 1998, it was "Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays" by Elaine St. James.

St. James, somewhat of a "Simplify Your Life" guru, came up with a myriad of suggestions to uncomplicate the month of December. They included boycotting the current in-demand toy, paring down the Christmas card list and avoiding those unrealistic women's and lifestyle magazines. Martha Stewart, go home -- and stay there!

THIS year, my must-read suggestion is "Tuesdays With Morrie" by Mitch Albom. Perhaps you've already perused it, though, because it's been on the national best-sellers list since coming out in 1997.

Or maybe you're like me and have managed to successfully avoid it for the past two years.

It's not a very impressive-looking tome. The beige cover of this small nonfiction book says simply, "Tuesdays with Morrie: an Old Man, a Young Man and Life's Greatest Lesson." The writing isn't fancy. It could easily be consumed in two or three sittings.

But what an incredibly moving true-to-life tale. Albom, a hard-driving, award-winning sports columnist, took a breather in his career to visit his dying former college professor, Morrie Schwartz. They not only revived a friendship, but Schwartz managed to answer that eternal, infernal question, "What is the meaning of life?"

HERE'S an excerpt from the book (turned made-for-TV movie last week) that's especially appropriate at this superficial, supercilious time of year:

"We've got a form of brainwashing going on in our country," Morrie sighed. "Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over...Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good...The average person is so fogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what's really important anymore.

"Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. 'Guess what I got? Guess what I got?'

"You know how I always interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can't substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.

"Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I'm sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you're looking for, no matter how much of them you have."

MY eyes are still swollen after finishing "Tuesdays with Morrie" and crying myself silly. The inevitably tragic ending evoked sadness. But for me it also brought anger -- at myself for not reading it sooner!

Here's my Christmas wish: that others may take a breather from this holiday rush to appreciate Morrie Schwartz's wisdom, as chronicled by Mitch Albom.

May it simplify your Christmas and your life, and lead to a renewed appreciation for what is important -- not only on Tuesdays but every day of the week.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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