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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I figured it out!

I did.

I figured it out. What Poland really needs is my dad's cousin Bill.

Or The Judge. Justice Erickson.

Poland needs Judge Erickson, Bill, in its back pocket.

My father's cousin, Justice William H. Erickson, died last week and I've been reflecting long and gratefully about his life, his firecracker personality, his deep and abiding commitment to justice, and his faithful loyalty to what is right.

And I've been gratefully thinking about his kindnesses to his family.

At the Memorial Service today there was some conversation about nomenclature. Some of his former law clerks can't think of calling him anything but Judge Erickson, or even The Judge. He was on the Colorado Supreme Court for 25 years and was the Chief Justice for part of that period. So some colleagues can't but call him Justice Erickson.

To me, he was Bill.

In the past few years we had been working together on some family history (see above, Sex With Kings) and he told me stories that had as much to do with the practice of law and his own father's stealing apples from William Jennings Bryan's apple tree and the great legal cases of the century as with our own Erickson clan. It was a lot of fun. And we even managed to get a product completed!

But my most grateful memory of Bill was the morning he sat in my living room and respectfully invited me to rehearse the sordid, disgusting history of my experiences at the church here in Littleton, the experiences that resulted in my becoming badly injured and leaving, experiences that are simply evil. There's no other word for it.

I was still at the point of not quite being able to believe it myself. "Things like this don't really happen, do they? People don't do these things, do they? Am I making it all up?"

He listened patiently. And he nodded and validated every single experience I described. He'd heard it all before. He knew it was possible. I didn't say anything that shocked him -- except insofar as it happened to me. He was disgusted and angry.

And that meant the world to me.

When outrageous things happen to us, especially when they seem to come right out of left field, unexpectedly, from sources we didn't think could be capable of such hideous crap, we don't believe it. We doubt ourselves.

When injustice occurs, when we are trampled, when we're blindsided by hatred and fear and incompetence, we often feel that we're misreading the situation. But we know we didn't. We have transcripts. We have data. We have witnesses. But still, we don't quite believe it.

It is so urgently important in such a case to have a person of credibility and authority who can sit and say, "Yes, this happened. You're not crazy. You read it correctly. You did everything you could. You don't deserve this, you are better than this."

Bill wasn't quite as vigorous as my friend, Christopher, whose reaction was, "Where do they live? Where can I find them? I'm gonna beat the hell out of that man." I loved it.

Bill was an expert on the law and the law doesn't smile on taking matters into one's own hands.

But he respected me. Given the complex law governing Church/State issues, we decided not to launch a civil suit. He would have been there for me had it been appropriate. Had it been any other profession I was in, it would have been a slam dunk. Knowing that was empowering. Knowing he knew that, believed it, was empowering and terribly heart-warming.

Being validated, respected, believed, affirmed is a critical part of the healing process. Justice Erickson, Bill, did that for me.

As Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, he wrote the opinion in 1993 that found the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado liable with respect to a civil suit filed by a victim of clergy sexual abuse and awarded a few million dollars to her in damages. That opinion shocked and scared the shit out of church officials who realized for the first time that they would be held accountable for passing along to other parishes the clergy they knew to have been sexually involved with parishioners.

I loved it! And it was the landmark case that caught the attention of church leaders overall and helped to change the dynamics so that most Protestant churches now have policies that are respectful of victims and have a bias toward preventing abuse rather than covering it up. Sadly, that message didn't get through to all leaders --- ask me! --- but, hey, we're working at it.

How odd, from very different professional positions and responsibililties, Judge Erickson and his cousin's daughter collaborated on moving this along. How cool is that! At the time I was the ELCA's churchwide point person for responding, and teaching bishops, to respond to clergy sexual abuse. Chief Justice Erickson and the Colorado Supreme Court did part of my work for me.

So, Bill, thank you. For the character and inspiration you've provided over the years, to me, to hundreds of others, for the kind and generous spirit you shared, for being an advocate of justice. And thank you for that morning when you asked and I answered and you listened and I finally began to take it in.

Poland -- back to Poland -- is still waiting for the world to validate their WWII experience, all they suffered, how valiantly they resisted and fought, and for someone with the same relative authority and credibility in that arena that Bill offered to me in mine.

Poland still needs to be loved, respected, believed and acknowledged for what happened to them. Maybe in my own modest way, I'm using this blog to do for the Polish people what Bill did for me.

Listen up!