Pondering Gratitude and the Admirable, Imperfect Life of Morris Abram

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A boost to the spirits can come from an unexpected place, even an obituary. The March 17, 2000 account of Morris Abram’s life, as written by William Honan in The New York Times, included this:

Mr. Abram was a young lawyer in Atlanta specializing in railroad cases in 1949 when he began a 14-year struggle to overturn a Georgia electoral rule that gave disproportionate weight in primary elections to ballots cast in predominantly white rural areas at the expense of those cast by urban blacks. The rule perpetuated segregation in Georgia.

Mr. Abram felt the sting of the rule in 1953 when he sought the Democratic nomination for Congress from the Fifth District. He ran on a platform that urged the desegregation of schools and carried populous Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. But he lost two smaller rural counties that had disproportionate weight under the rule and lost the election.

Over the years Mr. Abram helped bring cases against the rule to the United States Supreme Court. On March 18, 1963, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who had been briefed by Mr. Abram, argued the case before the Supreme Court. In a historic ruling, the court declared the rule unconstitutional because ”within a given constituency there can be room for but one constitutional rule — one voter, one vote.”

A remarkable story, then, both for the achievement and the time and persistence it took. Abram advantaged not only those who heard of him in his lifetime, but those who did not. Countless others benefit today. Abram’s name fades, but his work remains. Thanks to him we are closer to a country where “all men are created equal,” even if not yet close enough. As a friend of mine, Rich Adelstein, likes to say, we are all the beneficiaries of people we never met whose names we do not know.

Life, however, rarely stops in the moment you achieve something of genuine greatness or personal importance. Glory is fleeting, the river flows on. Abram faced many ups and downs in his future, professional and relational: failed jobs, marital problems, and more.

In 1973, Mr. Abram was told he had acute myelocytic leukemia. His fight against the disease impelled him to write an autobiography, The Day is Short, in 1982.

Abram lived another 18 years after publication of his story and died of something else. He was 81.

At the conclusion of The Day is Short, Abram offers this:

I have never been a cautious man, and in a good cause, I would be more willing than ever to take risks. As my remission continues, I notice that I am more inclined to consider the long-term consequences of my actions. But I know that time is limited, and I tend to be in a hurry. I am daily reminded of an ancient Hebrew text that says, ‘The day is short, the work is great … It is not thy duty to complete the work, but neither art thou free to desist from it.’

The work to repair yourself also repairs the world. Those who find therapy self-indulgent misunderstand. In making ourselves better we impact the life around us. Perhaps in not so grand a way as this small-town Jewish man’s 14-year struggle to right injustice, but a contribution still. Even Abram’s battle to defeat disease provides an example; as does his sense of urgency in doing his work because, as he reminds us, “the day is short.”

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Morris Abram was grateful for his usefulness to others, offering us still another lesson in how to live. Therapists benefit from their usefulness, too. All of you have my thanks for spending time with my words. I am heartened that you do.

I have been told there are those who look to me for answers, some for encouragement, some to enter one therapist’s mind. Perhaps you are drawn by an unaccustomed frankness about difficult and complicated topics. I hope you enjoy my peculiar slant on a variety of matters or my effortful attempt to achieve an artful turn of phrase. I am aware more than a few find comfort here and I am pleased to provide it when I can. Then too, I try to entertain.

I know my essays are sometimes unsettling. I would apologize, but I am indeed doing so knowingly, though not always with perfect tact. My intention is to get you to think in a new way. I hope I succeed from time to time. This virtual cubby-hole is designed as a safe and civil place in a world not always so. If my provocations do not shatter your trust in me — well — then I’ve accomplished my goal. I am on your side.

To those who feel dismissed in life, know that I and others like myself take you seriously. I think of you as I write. My effort is to speak to you as if we were face-to-face, eye-to-eye, without condescension. A handful of you are friends, some ex-patients, some fellow-bloggers. All of your comments are appreciated and frequently enlightening or touching. I’ve been lucky to make online friendships along the way because of them. All of you — silent or not, known to me or not — are welcome here.

Without people who pay attention to us there would be no therapists.

So thanks for taking me seriously, too.

The best of good wishes for the best possible New Year.

The top photo is called Heart of My Heart. It is the work of Koshy Koshy as unloaded by Jkadavoor to Wikimedia Commons.

27 thoughts on “Pondering Gratitude and the Admirable, Imperfect Life of Morris Abram

  1. Great post. A reminder that we are not just trying to get better for us but also for the benefit of others. Those whom we may not even know yet and have no clue how we will impact their lives in the future. Peace.

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    • Thank you, Keith. Life is like a relay race where we don’t know sometimes even the person to whom we pass the baton. Best of luck.

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  2. Thanks and best wishes for the new year to you too. I was initially drawn to your blog when you wrote about retirement, as I was approaching it rapidly, and was curious in other points of view. Now I look forward to all of your articles. Thank you and keep writin’!

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    • Thank you, Mark. Hope your retirement is going well. In my limited personal experience on the subject, one does have to keep reinventing himself. I’d kind of thought retirement was a static event, but then, my professional career was not static and required a good deal of flexibility. In any case, stay nimble!

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  3. Many thanks to you for publishing this blog and the obvious thought and effort you put into everything you write. It’s the highlight of my week and much appreciated. Please don’t ever stop! Wishing you health, happiness and all the best in the coming year!

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    • You are welcome, Brewdun. Your reading my words makes them better. But, a word to everyone: there are many other (high)lights that burn brighter and better than mine! Very kind of you, though.

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  4. Your eloquent blog reminded me of my friend, an attorney, who went south to register voters and help with the civil rights movement, only to take his own life years later. Whenever I think of him he is a hero who lived and died with his flaws.

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    • Thank you, Joan. Here’s to your friend. The world permits no free lunch, even to a man who made it easier for blacks to eat the the southern lunch counters that were, among other places, forbidden.

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  5. I look forward to your posts every week and I enjoy your style of writing, particularly your honesty. Please keep blogging!

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  6. I always look out for you blog on a Sunday morning (Australia time) and appreciate the fact that you answer every reply, it does give the sense of meeting up with a friend for coffee and having a chat, sharing different views and looking in on your chats with fellow repliers to your blog. It has also been a welcoming and safe place to visit where the conversation doesn’t descend into fighting over words or different opinions or worse. I look forward to your continued interesting thoughts on different subjects. Thank you to for the reassurance and support and words of wisdom that have made a difference to me. This has certainly been a soft place to fall.☁️🌈

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  7. I have known you for many years and I wouldn’t consider me fitting in any of your categories of friend, ex-patient, or fellow blogger. You exist. You are a safe piller. A source of strength and hope. While I found you in England even though we are geographically close, it is only appropriate to say you make it around the world (s) with me. I wish you health and luck to continue in your ways and provide publicly and secretly the many resources you do for people.

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    • Well, I am glad I exist, Al! It is one of the things I work hardest at. πŸ˜‰ Glad to be of service and many thanks for saying so and allowing me on your journey. All the best to you, as well.

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  8. You are welcome, Claire. Thank you for your faithful attention to my posts. I love the phrase, “a soft place to fall.” And I am happy that you always get up to exchange a few words and, I’m sure, much else.

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  9. Dr. Stein, thanks for highlighting the work of Morris Abram. So many individuals, like Morris Abram, have worked tirelessly to defend and protect our rights.

    Thank you for your well written, and often humorous, articles that provide guideposts for me to become a better mother, friend, and individual in our complex world.

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  10. “My intention is to get you to think in a new way. I hope I succeed from time to time.” You do indeed succeed in this. Thank you for all you do. πŸ™‚

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  11. I’m late to the conversation but I will support the comments offered above. I think I started reading your blog about three years ago. I had stumbled over it on the way to something else and I remember I was so intrigued that I went back and read all the blog posts back to the very beginning, commenting here and there along the way. I was recovering from some surgery at the time and it gave me both some laughs and some knowledge – always a good combination in my book. I liked your blend of everyday stuff (music, baseball, families) as well as the insights into your professional world. I still look forward to new posts and marvel that you are so prolific. It’s not simply the posts but the fact that they are well researched and all thought out. Thanks for posting them.

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    • We don’t watch the clock here, JT, so you are never late. You should get some sort of award for reading my complete blog works! If I’m not mistaken we’ve had the same (knee replacement) surgery. For what it is worth, as my surgeon reminded me, “it’s not like a real knee.” Of course, he only said this after! Thanks for your praise and a Happy New Year. By the way, I finally read the “Terror Management” book you recommended by Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski. Worth recommending to everyone.

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      • It was interesting to read all those blogs. That was a tough time for me as that surgery was joint replacement at the base of my right thumb…. very limited activities but reading the old blog posts kept me entertained. Yes, I had both knees replaced at the same time in the summer of 2015 – still working on that full recovery. I have declared a moratorium on surgeries!

        Yes, The Worm at the Core – that was both entertaining and informative. I’ve reread it a couple of times. Fascinating topic. I also recently read Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. It was just as engaging as you had suggested in a blog post from last year.

        This wrong I finished JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (https://www.amazon.com/Hillbilly-Elegy-Memoir-Family-Culture/dp/0062300547/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1483486449&sr=8-1&keywords=hillbilly+elegy). If you haven’t yet read it, you might find it interesting and engaging. As I noted in a Goodreads review, “No matter what your political bent is, I highly recommend this book. I suspect it will broaden your vision of our country’s population and might broaden your understanding of the unhappiness of so many Americans.”

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      • Thanks, JT. I have Vance’s book on my radar. Best wishes.

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  12. Your words have a ripple effect. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Thanks for being you.

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