The mission of Silver Disobedience is so in tune with the book by my dad, Morrie Schwartz, that I just edited and published. My father’s main focus in “The Wisdom of Morrie – Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully” (Blackstone Publishing, 2023) is to remove the stigma associated with seniors, to defeat ageism both in society and people’s minds, and help people live life fully.
In the late spring of 1989, my much younger self had returned to the Boston area after a 2-year trip around China, Tibet, India, and Thailand. I then lived at home for 3 months, the last time I would live with my parents. As fate would have it, my father was deep into working on the manuscript that would become “The Wisdom of Morrie”.
During this time at home, I was afforded the opportunity to talk with dad about the book, his ideas, and his goals in writing it. My father had never viewed himself as an aging person. Indeed, he taught undergraduates at Brandeis University, who were mostly twenty-somethings. He swam regularly and danced often, one of his favorite activities. So when the university forced him to retire at 70, he was surprised.
And dad was further surprised that he was not comfortable being viewed as an aging person. This forced him to investigate his own psyche, and he found the pernicious prejudice of ageism influencing his feelings. That’s when he decided there was a need to rid himself of that poison and try to help others to do the same. He was deep in that process by the time I hung up my dusty rucksack for a spell in 1989.
Dad completed the manuscript in 1992 and attempted to get it published. Unfortunately, he soon was touched by ALS and projects like this book had to be put on the back burner. The text was stored in the filing cabinet drawers of his long wooden desk in the study he worked in. In this same study, dad met with former student Mitch Albom, who wrote “Tuesdays with Morrie” from those sessions in 1997. Dad’s text sat in that space for more than 10 years until I rediscovered it and decided to edit and it publish as “The Wisdom of Morrie” this year.
Dad’s new book is thematically divided into two sections, with the second half being a little longer. At first, my dad starts the discussion about ageism and expunging that poisonous attitude. He even coins a new term, “age-casting.” Age-casting, derived from typecasting in film where an actor is forced into the same type of role, identifies the tendency to push aging people into sidelined or meaningless roles. It relegates them to some invisible position in the corner, pushing them away from anything consequential. Obviously my dad thought this was hideously wrong and horrible for both the person and society.
Morrie fervently believed that aging people have some much to offer in terms of wisdom, experience, and insight. Dad, whose professional training was in sociology, social psychology, and mental health, discusses how to have a healthy approach to aging and move forward with a positive attitude to help lead to the best outcomes.
“The Wisdom of Morrie” is unusual in presentation. Despite the fact that my father was an academic, the book is extremely down-to-earth and written in conversational language. Dad uses all different kinds of writings and voices other than his own. There are newspaper articles, poetry, quotations, first-hand accounts from many seniors, short pieces, and stories. This was clearly a conscious effort to break up the narrative of solely his voice and give the reader unexpected pleasures. Dad’s voice shines through clearly (my main task as editor was to ensure this), but there are various flavors and styles in the writings dad uses to make this book a remarkable joy to read.
In the second half (or so) of the book, my father offers techniques, attitudes, approaches, and lifestyles that will lead to a more creative and vibrant life. These range from something simple, like laughing more and pursuing more humor in your life, to attentive practices like meditation.
Indeed, numerous studies have shown that seniors who meditate live markedly longer than those who do not. Two of the more lifestyle-oriented suggestions in the book are honoring and cultivating the relationships in your life, and focusing on learning and expanding your horizons. The first includes concentrating on crucial relationships like close friends and family, but also mending past relationships and hopefully creating new ones.
Throughout this book and “Tuesdays with Morrie”, there is an emphasis on how relationships make up the most critical aspect of our lives. Continuing to learn and grow goes hand-in-hand with this new book. By exploring and expanding your interests and knowledge, one can meet others with the same interests and hopefully create new bonds. Ways to embrace life as we age are examined and discussed thoroughly – using many stories and examples.
In all, my dad truly felt the senior stage of life could be the most rewarding, fulfilling and yes, even active time. He addresses limitations, of course, but maintained the attitude and energy each individual brings to their life determines what kind of experiences they will have when aging.
This article was contributed by: Rob Schwartz, Son/Editor “The Wisdom of Morrie”