A CHANCE MEETING

HOW SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER CAN BE A CATALYST FOR CHANGE

Excerpts from a letter to Rabbi Lerner
by Susan R. Friedes

My dad, a lawyer who had joined the FBI during World War II, dedicated his career to the Bureau’s mission to protect the country from criminals, specifically bank robbers, kidnappers, and extortionists in the Pacific Northwest. When J. Edgar Hoover began to direct the Bureau into political investigations, my father and many of his colleagues questioned this path, especially as their work environment became increasingly repressive and punitive. As a Christian who played an active role in the University Congregational Church (a hotbed of liberalism then and now), he had a strong moral compass. He was intelligent, loyal, principled, and compassionate: still my role model.

Dad had been with the Bureau for 29 years, holding on during the last few in order to gain the pension boost he would have earned at 30 years of service. Despite loathing to go to work most mornings, he was determined to get his kids through college and provide for his family. It was only when he saw the Bureau violating its mission and asking him to act against its motto “Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity,” that he felt he had to resign.

Our childhood friend precipitated this letter by saying, “You should find out who that guy was and write to tell him how he changed your dad’s life.” As I was nodding in agreement, my brother surprised us both by saying, “I know who he was. His name was Michael Lerner.” I then googled you and learned you are alive and well and living in Berkeley.

Three weeks later, I was back home in New York scrolling through my in-box when your name appeared asking for my signature on a MoveOn petition. My first thought was, “Wow, the universe is reminding me to write that letter!” Then, another two weeks went by. Last Saturday, my husband and I were spending the evening with old friends visiting from L.A. Over dinner they told us about a major injury the husband had sustained being run over by a car in the parking lot of a book store where he’d gone to buy a book for his wife. These friends are observant Jews, so later in the conversation I thought to ask them if they had heard of a rabbi named Michael Lerner and a publication called Tikkun.They put down their forks and looked at each other. Al replied, “It was Michael Lerner’s book, The Left Hand of God, I had just bought for Julie when the car hit me.” Serendipity indeed…

I’m sure you agree with me that life can be wonderful at times like these when we realize we are all connected. By simply speaking your truth in that Bureau car those many years ago, you inspired my dad to follow his heart. It took courage on both your parts to do what you did. Thank you for the role you played in giving my beloved father an extra year to enjoy life free of distress and sadness, and in giving my brother and me a chance to see Dad demonstrate the integrity he raised us to revere.