I have always wanted a tattoo. But I never knew what I wanted to have permanently inscribed into my flesh. Trends come and go, designs become dated and even mocked (“tramp stamp” anyone?)
I finally decided on a tattoo almost a year ago – when I was 33 years old. Thanks to RHE.
If you’re not familiar with that hashtag, it refers to the writer Rachel Held Evans (often referred to as RHE on Twitter). She died at age 37 while hospitalized due to a reaction to antibiotics.
On April 14, 2019 she tweeted: ” If you’re the praying type – I’m in the hospital with a flu + UTI combo and a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics they gave me. (I’m totally going to miss GOT!) Then she followed it up by saying: “Note: We’ve got HBO Go! So I won’t miss it entirely. Was just looking forward to the live experience. Thanks for your concerns on this which far exceeded concerned for my health. Ha!”
Then, like that, she was gone.
I wish I could tell you the impact RHE has had on my life.
When I first started going down the progressive Christian rabbit hole, she was my first guide. My favorite guide. I always felt like she was the smarter, funnier, more confrontational version of me – we were remarkably similar, but somehow she was always able to find the most amazing way to frame her thoughts and ideas. I loved her fire, her wit, and her ability to push back against harmful biblical interpretations and theology.
I devoured her words, was inspired by her ferocious advocacy for marginalized people, and learned so much from her work and her life. I have never mourned someone that I never met. I mean, sure, I’ve been sad when celebrities that I admired passed away, but mourning? No.
I have mourned RHE’s death (coming up on a year in May) every single day. I go about my life, of course, but the connection I felt with her was so vibrant and tangible – I can’t shake the grief off completely. When I see her faded profile picture in a “legacy” facebook page or twitter account, my heart drops. Just thinking about her death makes my lungs feel like they are gasping for air. I watched her funeral online (which was a wonderful gift from her family to all of us) and felt dizzy when her coffin was carried down the aisle.
I know that my grief is amplified by my own identification with RHE. Her last tweets talked about Influenza A, Tamiflu, UTI, and reactions to antibiotics. The past few months, I have battled Influenza A, had to take two rounds of Tamiflu, had a UTI, and been on so many antibiotics my doctor was shocked. I was hospitalized twice. I kept playing RHE’s tweets in my head. Our lives were so similar; I was fearful our deaths would be, too.
All this to say, thanks to RHE, I figured out my tattoo.
RHE often used the phrase “eshet chayil,” a Hebrew phrase from Proverbs 31 that can be translated “woman of valor,” to cheer on other women. Jason Byassee from “The Christian Century” wrote that RHE “had a charming habit of shouting (usually digitally, but in person with no less zeal) the Hebrew phrase from Proverbs 31 eshet chayil (woman of valor) when a fellow sister achieved something. Proverbs 31 is often taken in fundamentalist circles as a checklist of female achievement and failure. What God holds out as grace is reduced to another impossible standard with which to shame women. Evans took that chapter back, with help from her Jewish friends, and made it an encouragement, a delight.” Click HERE to read the article – it’s great.
So when I heard the shocking news of RHE’s death, I knew there was only one thing I could put on my body. Well, two things, two words.
To remind myself of RHE, yes, but also to empower myself, to remind myself, that I am a woman of valor. And to champion other women of valor out there in the world. And to do my part in living out RHE’s legacy of love, inclusion, and being (as I read somewhere) a “joyful troublemaker.”
I leave you with a passage from RHE’s book “Searching for Sunday.”
“Death is something empires worry about, not something gardeners worry about. It’s certainly not something resurrection people worry about…As the shape of Christianity changes and our churches adapt to a new world, we have a choice: we can drive our hearses around bemoaning every augur of death, or we can trust that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead is busy making something new.
As long as Christians are breaking the bread and pouring the wine, as long as we are anointing the sick and baptizing sinners, as long as we are preaching the Word and paying attention, the church lives, and Jesus says the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. We might as well trust him, since he knows a thing or two about the way out of the grave.”
Eshet Chayil, RHE.