Last Friday night I sat in an auditorium in Savannah, spellbound by the stories Mitch Albom was spinning. As you probably know, Mr. Albom authored "Tuesdays with Morrie," a book that figured on the New York Times bestseller list for four years. Not having read the book, I was surprised to learn that he wrote it to pay for Morrie Schwartz's end-of-life medical bills. But it's something Mitch said during the Q&A session that lingers in my mind. And it had to do with a sportscaster.
As the keynote speaker for the Savannah Book Festival, Mitch Albom talked at length about his beloved professor Morrie Schwartz, about how the direction of a life can turn on the smallest of decisions. He beguiled us with his candor, peppering his presentation with self-effacing anecdotes. I hadn't expected such approachable humility in so famous a person. We gave him a standing ovation, but it wasn't his frank humor that brought us to our feet. It was the sprit of love and compassion he radiated. Our souls recognized our better selves in him, and responded with an answering amen.
As the lights went up for questions, I found myself wondering what Mitch does with all the wealth his writing has provided him. Morrie's bills have long been paid. Love and generosity are easy to talk about, but does he walk the walk?
Another woman in the audience was thinking the same thing. What charities did he support? she asked.
I've noticed that many goodhearted people don't vaunt their generosity, but had he been coy in response, we would have suspected his sincerity. So he told us. We were stunned. With a tangible joy he described his work with Detroit's neediest citizens and spoke of the school, clinic, and orphanage his funds provide for the poor children of Haiti. And that's only a fraction of his largesse. His sense of personal well-being, rooted in selflessness, flowed over us like warm honey.
Earlier, in recounting his road to becoming a successful author, Mitch had regaled us with stories of his years as a sports writer. The sports connection had snagged the interest of a man in the row behind me. Taking the microphone, the man asked Mitch if he had known Ernie Harwell.
"Who's Ernie Harwell?" I thought.
Turns out that for 42 years, Ernie Harwell was the Hall of Fame baseball announcer for the Detroit Tigers. Mitch has lived in Detroit since 1985. Before writing "Tuesdays with Morrie," Mitch had been a nationally recognized sports writer for the Detroit Free Press. So had he known Ernie?
Yes, he had. "Ernie's broadcasting booth was about the size of this lectern," Mitch said, "and the guy in there with him was a heavy smoker." Mitch once asked Ernie if he himself was a smoker. Ernie said no.
"Did you ever ask the guy not to smoke? You had the right to ask that," Mitch told Ernie.
Ernie's response is what I remember from Friday night, and it wasn't even part of Mitch's prepared remarks.
"I didn't want any friction between us," Ernie said. "And given a choice of being right or being kind, I think it's better to be kind."
Interesting that Mitch remembered that about Ernie and wanted to share it with us. Ernie lived to be 92. If a kind heart makes a long life, Mitch Albom will live to be 100.
Carol Megathlin, formerly of Americus, is a Georgia writer who now lives in Savannah; email@example.com.