I was in fourth grade the first time I heard Charlotte’s Web. Our teacher would read us a chapter of a book right after recess and thus introduced me to Charlotte and Wilbur and Fern and Templeton. A story of unlikely friends, a story about sticking up for and aiding the underdog. As my teacher finished the book, I had the beautiful, but new experience of a story moving me to tears. I’ve read it many times in the years since, and it has never failed to make me cry. The last lines have been clattering loudly in my brain the last few days.
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
I got to the restaurant a good bit ahead of the designated meeting time. I was so excited to finally have a chance to hug this woman I admired for some time. We shared emails and texts, but this was the first time we were going to meet in person. So I sat there, waiting for Rachel to pull up in her little blue car.
We had a long, leisurely lunch. We talked about her upcoming book. We talked about what being an ally to LGBTQ people looked like at that time. We talked about Arrested Development. We talked about writing. We talked about being women in the church. We talked like people who were catching up after a long time apart. We talked like old friends.
In the past decade, Rachel has been an incredible encourager. She offered me guest spots on her blog. She linked to things I wrote in her Sunday Superlatives. If I ever had a bump in traffic to my blog I’d look and sure enough, it was because she had retweeted my work. When I was in my darkest days and she could have felt used by me, she extended grace, even when others wanted to burn my reputation to the ground. She mourned with me when we lost Elliott. She encouraged me when my kids came out, pointing me to people she had met who could help through that transition. She offered advice and support with abandon, secure in the knowledge that lifting up others wouldn’t diminish her share. Rachel did not operate out of a sense of scarcity, but from abundance.
I’ve been in a bit of a daze since before Easter when word came down that Rachel had been placed in a medically induced coma. Like so many, I spent Good Friday following the #PrayForRHE hashtag, adding my meager prayers to so many others. On Easter Sunday I kept waiting for word that she, too had risen.
I don’t pray for miracles very often, and it’s even more rare that I believe they will happen. But I believed for Rachel, because surely God couldn’t allow her light to go dark when she was so young, when she had a husband who she loved so much, when she had two beautiful babies, when she had so much more to teach us. I couldn’t wait to read the book she would write about this.
But the miracle didn’t happen, and on May 4, Rachel died. Our world is less bright for that.
I’m not sure what moving on looks like for us. After Charlotte dies, Wilbur cares for her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. He tells them of her beauty and loyalty and brilliance. He loves them, but none can replace his dear Charlotte.
I think that’s what we who remain must do. We tell her children, both her literal flesh and blood, and those borne of the same spirit, of Rachel’s story. The story of justice. The story of compassion. The story of authenticity and humor and creativity and courage and friendship.
It’s not often someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.
Rachel was both.