kiss the hand you cannot bite

One week ago today I was on a plane to Tennessee for the memorial service of Rachel Held Evans, an amazing writer, blogger, thinker, unifier, wife and mom who died at age 37. Nadia Bolz-Weber delivered the message, and in it she said, “Death is a thief we cannot put on trial and cannot punish.”

She said a lot of other brilliant things, too, and concluded by reminding us of the hope of Resurrection. But that line stuck with me the most: “Death is a thief we cannot put on trial and cannot punish.”

I’ve been in a quiet mode, dark and deep, since I got back from South Sudan. And a few things have happened recently to make that space feel deeper and darker still….including Rachel’s death.

For weeks now, I’ve had an empty blog page on my laptop, waiting for a title, waiting for some thoughts to be written down, waiting for me to say something — anything — but I could come up with nothing.

Earlier this week as I was walking to the clinic where I work part-time, I walked past a small art gallery that had a sign in the window that said, “Kiss the hand you cannot bite.”

And without knowing why, I started to cry.

Kiss the hand you cannot bite.

I cannot bite Death, the thief that can’t be put on trial. I’m helpless against the sorrow and suffering I witnessed in South Sudan. I can’t shake the ache of loss that’s constantly causing a sinking feeling in my chest. I can’t rectify the injustice of toddlers losing their mom. I can’t explain why a beautiful voice was silenced too soon. And I’m at a loss to comprehend all the other ways in which this world is not as it was meant to be.

Kiss the hand you cannot bite.

What does it mean to kiss the hand of everything that’s inexplicable and unacceptable and out of my control? I wondered, as I wiped my tears and continued walking through the Mission District of San Francisco, on my way to care for patients who are suffering, too.

Kiss the hand you cannot bite.

Does that mean, Make peace with loss? Accept death? Live with the constant ache? Surrender to suffering? Submit to maleficent mysteries?

Kiss the hand you cannot bite.

I’ve spent the week wondering, What if I don’t want to? What if I can’t?

Kiss the hand you cannot bite.

Does that mean learning lessons from terrifying teachers? Letting death create a new thirst for life? Making moments count because I know there’s not an infinite amount of them?

Kiss the hand you cannot bite.

In the end, I’m left with more questions than answers. More curiosities than conclusions. More mysteries than meanings.

This morning I was researching the phrase (which some say is an Arabic proverb and others say is Romanian). And I came across words from Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian novelist who finished the proverb that’s been echoing in my head all week with a line that makes more sense to me than anything right now:

Kiss the hand you cannot bite…

…but call upon God to break it.