Tue, 15 Nov 2011 16:46:50 +0000

"Dear Jake—" she writes in the book cover, "I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did."

That was Emma. She was writing in — or I guess on — "Tuesdays with Morrie," which was a bestseller in the mid-90s. I found it at the Strand Bookstore a few weeks ago. And I bought it because I've had a recent interest in hand-written letters. I would not have bought the book otherwise.

"Tuesdays with Morrie" was written by a sportswriter, Mitch Albom. It's about his former professor — Morrie — who is dying. So it's a book about death.

"It is a truly beautiful story," Emma writes. "I believe it is essential to be reminded, from time to time, of that which is most important and true."

Emma has beautiful handwriting. It's what I call "Catholic school cursive." Each stroke is precisely articulated with what looks like a black Bic pen. People of my generation rarely have this kind of handwriting — a casualty of keyboards, I suppose. That's what makes me think Emma is an older woman.

It would make sense. "Tuesdays with Morrie" was wildly popular with older people. It is, after all, about dying — or perhaps about life — and it seems, with each funeral I attend, I have a slightly better grasp on life and death, although only relative to my younger self. And even that I'm not too sure of.

In the book, Mitch Albom write about visiting his dying professor every Tuesday. He reflects on his own shortcomings. He shares Morrie's life lessons. And he crafts a shapely narrative.

This book is not for the jaded, which might be what I am.

Beyond the handwriting, what strikes me about Emma's letter is her syntax. People who grew up writing on computers, like myself, have a hard time constructing elegant sentences by hand. Emma seems confident and smooth, yet somehow thoughtful, in her writing.

"I thank you for your kindness," Emma writes, "and our friendship."

So Jake and Emma are friends. I imagine they aren't lovers or even close friends. I can't pinpoint why I think this. Maybe it's because after she writes, "Dear Jake," she adds and m-dash, which is one of these (—), almost to separate herself a little. But this seems like a crock explanation. Maybe they are close.

At the least, they probably had a person-to-person connection — at least for a moment or two. Or maybe they're just related.

"I wish for your happiness," Emma writes, "and peace along your journey."

Early on in the book, you learn that Morrie's lessons aren't particularly new. In fact, most of them can be found on greeting cards and coffee cups. So I thought it was a trite book to give someone who is going on a journey — almost as trite as giving them "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"

But as Morrie gets closer to death, the chapters get longer, the moments are elongated and life slows down; life gets peaceful.

It's a book about peace.

That's certainly useful for a journey. Because during journeys, which I'm finding out now, the goal often overtakes the experience. But, as Morrie and every other human who has ever lived shows us, there is an end.

"Love, Emma."

As I write this, I realize how personal this letter is. It's the kind of thing that, even if I didn't like the book — and even if I didn't like the person — I'd keep it buried in a box somewhere. I'd feel guilty selling it or throwing it away.

So I wonder how it ended up at the Strand, in the middle of the memoir table, mixed with a handful of new copies.

Perhaps Jake did sell it. Or perhaps Jake's "journey" was college, and he left it with his parents at home — and when his parents moved, they sold all their books. Or maybe the journey was a nursing home or a foreign country or war.

In any case, it ended up at the Strand. A 24-year-old sportswriter/grad student bought the book because of Emma's letter. And he slowed down his life to read it.