One year ago, I was in California. I’d just attended the wedding of a friend the night before, and I’d been visiting with my brother and his family and other old friends, so I’d barely had time to check my phone. The evening of the fourth I scrolled my facebook feed and amid the star wars memes, I saw the news that Rachel Held Evans had died. A loud and involuntary “no!” escaped my lips and startled my brother. “What happened?” he asked. And I tried to inadequately explain why I was so upset over this person who I hadn’t known personally.
I’ve been sitting here this morning, crying over all the posts from her friends remembering her and feeling like I didn’t have the “right” to grieve her in the first place, much less this much now. She wasn’t a friend of mine, after all.
But then I called myself up short. Grief is grief, and if you feel it, you feel it. Sometimes one grief is access to other grief, and I may be feeling this heavy today not just because of Rachel but because of, well, everything right now. Several actual friends of mine have lost relatives to the pandemic.
And gee, I bet Rachel would have some really good words for all of us in the midst of all the strangeness, and all the sadness, and all the disappointment, and all the grief.
Trying to process grief on a plane ride home when you’re trying not to turn into a bawling, snotty mess in front of total strangers is no fun, let me tell you.
The loss of Rachel is first her family’s loss and her friends’ loss, but it is also a loss to all of us. Her voice was and is so needed, and while her words will live on, I’m mad she won’t be writing more of them.
Glennon Doyle tweeted part of her new forward for Searching for Sunday: “Then, she’d turn to us. She’d promise us that the giants of power, fear, and shame could never prevail because they didn’t have truth on their side. Then she’d tell us the truth: That we were made in God’s image, fully loved and fully free, and that we were to use that freedom to free others. We believed her.”
In my grief I asked, “Who will replace her?” And of course the answer is “no one.” Each of us are irreplaceable and each of us has our own voice and our own story. But I also felt the answer was “all of you.” All of us who were touched by her life and her work and her story, especially because she used her story to help all of us get free and if that’s not a mandate to get out and tell our own stories, then I don’t know what is.
Her legacy page on facebook has a picture of her desk, as I can only imagine it was left when she got sick. A haphazard pile of books towers on one side, and papers and more books are scattered amidst a couple of jars holding pens and a mug. Above it hangs a corkboard with notes she’d written to herself. As I studied the picture in the days after her death, one stuck out at me. Across three scraps of paper pinned side-by-side she’d written: “ONE TRUE SENTENCE” in all caps and underlined.
When I created my clipboard wall last fall, I included a graphic I made with those words both as a reminder of her work, and as a mandate. Just try to write one true sentence. Imagine what the world would be if we all tapped into the power of our own stories and figured out how to tell them to each other, one true sentence at a time.