Morris Friedell's Home Page

(rev.  5/3/16)

Iím 76; I live alone in Berkeley, but next door to my daughter Leesa and her family.  I have two children and seven grandchildren. Iím a retired sociology professor.

Forty-seven years ago I was captivated by the human potential movement. New methods for personal growth, using creative ways to overcome fear through counterconditioning, could to an unprecedented extent empower us to do what we want to do, feel what we want to feel, and realize the ideals of religion at its best.

I wrote on the blackboard:

Who are you?

Who are you to think?

Who are you to think that?

Who are you to think that you can change?

Who are you to think that you can change the world?

It all proved more difficult than we had thought Ė yet I continued to believe that the human potential movement had a kernel of truth. I argued for the reality of human dignity as opposed to pessimistic views of human nature that would make us pawns of biology or society. I assigned books such as Alberti and Emmonsí _Your Perfect Right_ which showed how persons could work with their feelings and build their skills to realize democratic ideals in relationships. Aggressiveness and passivity were not the only options.  (On this theme, William Ury, _The Power of a Positive No_, is an excellent 21st-century book.)

Another book I assigned was _Manís Search for Meaning_, written by Viktor Frankl who survived Auschwitz to argue for the human capacity to manifest human dignity and realize values such as generosity, responsibility and self-expression even in great adversity. Part of me envied Frankl who had a dramatic story to tell. Life hadnít been easy for me Ė as a child I was clumsy and socially inept, and my parents werenít the greatest. I grew up to marry a fascinating but borderline and histrionic woman who turned out to be abusive to our children (sheís dead now). Some drama there, but all too painful.  

My academic career was a mixed bag.  I was a good teacher of small classes but my main project was a hopefully ground-breaking manuscript on ďThe Reality of Human Dignity,Ē which sadly was never published -- due to a lack of focus.  (But what I learned helped me face adversity down the road.)  In 1994 I took an early retirement because I wanted to do something different from university teaching and research, though I was unclear what that was. 

In 1998 disturbing weaknesses in following conversations, remembering and problem-solving led me to get a "working diagnosis" at UCLA of early Alzheimerís disease. I finally had "material" for my own dramatic story. My second career could be "dementia activist." I could, in my way, emulate Frankl, enabling David Shenk, in his bestselling The Forgetting, to write: "Before being taken prisoner by the Nazis, Frankl wrote extensively about the human ability to retain dignity under extreme conditions. Then, in the concentration camp, he faced the ultimate personal test of his own ideas. Now, after years of studying him, Morris was echoing Franklís life. In the freezing, foodless, lice-ridden barracks of Auschwitz, Frankl survived and maintained his dignity. Morris wondered if he could do the same as he was thrown into the dark cave of forgetting."

Now, seventeen years later, my mind works slowly and is easily overloaded and fatigued by complex interaction with the environment in real-time (games, conversation, etc.). This is consistent with the bitemporal hypometabolism in my brain PET and with the white-matter hyperintensities in my MRI, but I am not certain whether major pathology is present. Regardless, my work adapting traumatic brain injury rehabilitation methodology to dementing disease has affirmed the broad applicability of lessons learned from spiritual resistance to the Holocaust by persons like Frankl. The Nazisí idolization of biology has again been found wrong.

I was a cofounder of  DASNI, the online Dementia Support and Advocacy Network (International).  In 2002 I met Andrea there, who became my third wife.   In 2007 she and I saw Away from Her, the award-winning film about Alzheimerís and relationships starring Julie Christie.  I was blown away when she quoted from The Forgetting my line, "Sometimes there is something delicious in oblivion." It was a thrill to hear these and other words from my life coming from a famous actress.  I had had no idea.  Part of the thrill was sharing this with Andrea and thus celebrating some of the best of our experience together.

But is really true that sometimes there is something delicious in oblivion? Absolutely! But there are other truths as well. I want to learn them, but not forget oblivion.  "We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it," says the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I like that attitude.  

Sadly, Andrea and I separated in 2009.  

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It gradually became clear several years ago that the severe cognitive decline which had previously seemed inevitable was not happening.  Instead of preparing for a good death under adverse circumstances, I was free to put a lot of time and energy into reflecting on heavy subjects  like death, aging, pain and money, into struggling with the demon of codependency and into working toward family healing.  I looked forward to again writing something significant.  I looked forward to resuming the quest for love.  

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For all my adult life Iíve had a love-hate relationship with religion. I long ago decided that a God who could have prevented the Holocaust but for some reason chose not to does not exist.  But I find myself asking: Can religions be reformed to retain their emotional appeal while eschewing superstition, violence and tribalism? Iíve particularly asked this question of Judaism (my heritage), but I think that with other religions the issues are much the same.    

I like the spirituality in the 23rd psalm, the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6), Ezekiel 18 and 34, Isaiah 53, Ruth 1.  I love the sentiment in the image of a compassionate God gathering the tears of the sufferer in a celestial flask and counting every one (Psalm 56).  I like the spirituality in  _Man's Search for Meaning_ despite its flaws.  I'm with Basho when he wrote: "I do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old.  I seek what they sought."  

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For all my adult life I've pursued self-help, support groups and psychotherapy for healing and for self-knowledge.  These have very helpful with my addictions to smoking and to overeating, and with overcoming depression and mitigating shyness.  Two years ago I found in Marilyn Lundberg the best therapist ever.  I haven't had major mental health problems since I last recovered from depression in 2002 but continue to seek insight and growth.   Marilyn is close to me in age, and one of the themes of our work is creative aging Ė there we are inspired by this poem by D.H. Lawrence:

When the ripe fruit falls
its sweetness distills and trickles away into
the veins of the earth.

When fulfilled people die
the essential oil of their experience enters
the veins of living space, and adds a glisten
to the atom, to the body of immortal chaos.

For space is alive
and it stirs like a swan
whose feathers glisten
silky with oil of distilled experience.

Marilyn and I might be pioneering a new way of listening, one that listens for memories of pleasure with the deep sensitivity that the best conventional therapy listens for memories of pain, one that can lead a client to sense his/her own deepest truths, to honor them, and ultimately to live the mystery and plenitude celebrated in Lawrenceís poem. 

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Early last year I read _The Last Lecture_ by Randy Pausch.  Wonderful!  I'd like to leave a legacy like that! Dying from cancer he spoke of the constellation of dreams that expressed his unique personhood and how he had striven to honor them, to "follow his bliss."  His point was not "Look what I did!" but "Here are some ideas for how you can celebrate your own uniqueness."  He wrote, "Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children."

Later last year my daughter Julia and I read Pausch's wife's "sequel" to _The Last Lecture_ and found it troubling.  Pondering this, I thought: yes, I do want to be remembered as a dreamer of dreams like Pausch, but I would like to be remembered as well as a pursuer of peace -- a pursuer of peace (with justice) whoo particularly cared about family healing.  Morrie Schwartz (of _Tuesdays with Morrie_) is an inspiration here.

Just recently I came across Paul Kalanithiís terminal cancer memoir _When Breath Becomes Air_.  His legacy of love makes it perhaps the most inspiring book Iíve ever read!

I began this mini-autobiography with the query: "Who are you to think that you can change the world?"  Here's where I am inspired by the prophet Moses.  Like me he wasn't the greatest at social skills or anger-management.  But perhaps it was his awareness of his weaknesses that gave him the humility to take a serious look at the burning bush.  Moses heard the Voice and despite his flaws did the best he could (usually) to fight for freedom and justice and thus fulfill his destiny.  I like to believe that we each (in our own way) have an Inner Moses, and that the answer to "Who are you to change the world?"  is "I am a human being, possessed of human dignity."



My Alzheimer's Struggle.