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.