We get on with it.
I have procrastinated long enough trying to find the right words, when really what I need to do most to honor Rachel’s life and influence is to simply share my heart.
Rachel was a force to be reckoned with, and in so many ways she still is. Her words survive her, her impact on so many other writers survives her, and so what else can we do but write, and hope that somehow these words upon the page do justice to her legacy? We hope that somehow our fumbling attempts at bringing a salve to this pain will keep her spirit alive in this world for a little longer.
Rachel passes into legend now, though she has only been gone a couple of days, the stories we now tell of how she influenced us are stories that will be told for generations about Saint Rachel.
I don’t know how to find the words to memorialize someone who saved me with hers, but I have to try.
Out of respect and honour for the way her voice reached across and buoyed me when I felt I might sink, I shall try to add my voice to the thousands who are now mourning an incredible loss.
This is not the kind of event that can go unremembered, nor the kind of sadness that can be borne without carving out a space for quiet grief. This is where we light a candle, this is when we join hands and weep, this is how we sit together in lament, in wretched bewilderment – with words.
Yesterday I said there are no words, knowing that the words would come, knowing that I would will them to arrive, that I would have to coax them out, or drag them – arm over aching arm until they spill over. The process of this dragging feels like a holy work, like the building of an altar. That’s what grief is, after all. Grief is a reminder that something existed, that someone occupied that place and now it doesn’t and they don’t. And what’s left is complicated and broken.
I’m not sure what path I might have taken had I never read Rachel’s words. Somewhere in the back of my mind I just knew we’d always have her, that her words could go before us, speaking truth to power, a force for us to rely on. And now she is not here. Her words will go before us no more, and the truth that she embodied now requires our collective strength to carry it.
How do you begin to claw your own words into the earth, when writing is what brings you undone, and makes you whole? When the reason you write is because someone taught you it could be done? How do we make it matter – maybe it all matters. Maybe all the words should just flow, unabated and unedited. Maybe there is no restraint in grief, maybe it is all an offering.
I wrote because of Rachel. Even though my perfectionism tried to (and many days still does) get the better of me. I wrote because she showed me that a woman having a voice on the internet was a beautiful and powerful thing, I wrote because she showed me my voice mattered. And today I write because of Rachel, because it feels like only true way I can honour her life, and the way she breathed life into me through her own words.
Today I write because it feels like a small ‘fuck you’ to the circumstances that took her away from us far too soon, and to whatever invisible forces try to stop good from happening in the world. I write because I can’t NOT WRITE. To not write would be for me to bury once again that spark of dissent she lit inside me. Because collectively we must pick up the torch she carried faithfully for so long. No, none can replace her, none will be the giant and and the gentle force she was, none can marry truth and humour and good-natured snark and loving rebuke and powerful humility the way that Rachel did. But we must try, in our own ways, to fight the things that convince us to be any less.
The truth is, often I rested in complacency in my writing because I had Rachel. She always knew just what to say, and how to say it, and she did it so much better than anyone else. And what now? I am terrified because I know I must write. I, along with thousands of others, must try to fill that hole she has left. A great warrior has fallen, and now we are all left with the responsibility to take up what we can, to continue the fight she fought so well. I say none of this lightly, though it sounds like hyperbole. You only have to browse the #BecauseOfRHE tag on twitter for a few minutes to grasp the impact she had on so many lives. Her reach and influence was unfathomable in its breadth, and now even more so in her death.
Somewhat ludicrously, this section includes an Avengers: Endgame spoiler. I have to think, in all of it’s ridiculousness, that would have amused Rachel. Her humour, her occasional snark, her good-natured and playful way of writing all brought levity and a glint of cheek to my own. I think she’d be OK with me riffing on some pop culture references to help make sense of her death.
Here’s the spoiler. There’s a scene towards the end of the film, after the great battle is over and Iron Man has snapped his fingers to try to right the wrongs of Thanos, and he breathes his last… there is a scene where all the characters from movies past are gathered on the banks of a river to farewell Tony Stark. They are all there, young and old. The camera pans across this gathering, and we see for ourselves glimpses of how the legacy of Iron Man will be remembered through their stories still to come. When I heard the news that Rachel had passed, this was the scene I saw in my mind. The welling of grief that someone who had fought so well was now gone, and that in her place are more than simply dozens of Avengers in a mythical universe is an indelible image in my consciousness. We are all standing by the banks, thousands of us, young and old and in-between. We know the story is not over, we know there will be more battles to come. We know that we will have to rise, to take what she taught us, and make it our own.
She was our Iron Man. Not perfect, but fighting on our side. She was brave, and stubborn, and driven, and deeply caring. She was a holy rebel, a constant friend, a fighter, and a careful truth-teller. We will all feel a little lost without her leadership, for now, and probably for a long time to come.
I’m still searching for meaning in all of this. How can I make the horror that is Rachel’s death mean something, to bring more healing to the world than the harm of her leaving it? All I’ve got right now is writing. To keep writing, to keep challenging and comforting and creating. I’ve got to get on with what I can do.
I’m going to finish with some words, not from Rachel, but from her dear friend Sarah, who was with her in her last days, and who carries a flame as strong and as bright as Rachel’s ever was. Sarah is another writer I look to in times of uncertainty and fear and sadness, and I have found her a great source of comfort over the years. I hope you all heed these words of hers as we attempt to lock arms and stride forward in strength, even as we nurse our broken hearts. Let’s get on with it, for Rachel.
My philosophy of “ministry” right now could best be described as “Get on with it.”
There will be those who misunderstand: get on with it. There will be those who judge and find your efforts wanting: get on with it. There will be those who think you are doing it wrong: get on with it. There will be those who hold you up as a warning: get on with it. There will be those who say you have no business doing it: get on with it. There will be those who believe you’re outside the boundaries: get on with it. There will be those who are certain you are too much: get on with it.
There will be those who question your faith, your credentials, your right, your voice, your methods, your manners, your tone, your size, your doctrine of atonement, your style, your medium, your translation of the bible: get on with it…
Get on with rising, on with love. Get on with speaking up and speaking out. Get on with setting more places at the tables in the wilderness, with opening the doors a bit wider…
Get on with reading widely and listening deeply and being disrupted. Get on with new paths in unexpected wilderness. Get on with the people who laugh and cry easily. Get on with proclaiming freedom and welcome. Get on with making a home where the dispossessed feel at rest. Get on with giving away your money and making plans for goodness. Get on with feeding the hungry and offering water to the parched.
Get on with paying attention. Get on with staying awake and watchful. Get on with making a nuisance of yourself to the powerful. Get on with organizing and protesting and making speeches on Facebook…
Get on with making friends and being kind in ordinary ways. Get on with your own healing and wholeness so that you can offer a healed and whole glimpse of the abundance of God. Get on with renewal and redemption and resurrection. “– Sarah Bessey, Sept 2017
Get on with it, for Saint Rachel.