Reflections on To Kill A Mockingbird

I wanted to you see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

Yesterday, the world heard the news: Harper Lee, the private author behind To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman, had passed away. Lee wrote two books and offered very few interviews and public appearances, but I feel that I lost a literary giant on what would have been an ordinary Friday. Many, many writers are offering tribute to Harper Lee; I am willing to join the crowd on this one. 

You see, To Kill a Mockingbird spoke straight to my heart from the first chapter. As soon as I got a glimpse of the clever, six-year-old Scout, I was transported to Maycomb, wholly empathetic to the child before me. I knew what the adult Jean Louise meant when she spoke to what she had felt as a child. In many ways, I was Scout, and I remember those nights of "longest journeys" that left childhood somewhere behind me, and yet still held every bit of innocence that children can contain. I did not fall in love with Mockingbird because of the plot or the central issues, but because of the characters. Every childhood ends; every adult has some part of them that remembers the world from two feet shorter. Mockingbird is the book I will always wish I had written.

In that way, Harper Lee got it right. She told us the story she had in her soul, published it in 1960, and let us wrestle with it for the next fifty-five years. One year before her death, she released a book that did not answer our questions, but validated them. She did not stand over her books, a larger-than-life AUTHOR in all caps, but spoke her piece to the world, to the canon, and to the child in all of us. We have to figure out what to do with her words as much as when she was alive, and it is my privilege as a reader to do so. 

And so, we have to listen to Harper Lee, and every great work of literature. We have to listen to the authors and the art. In doing so, perhaps we will gain some empathy, and perhaps, if we are very lucky, we will hear what we ourselves have not yet said.