“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Yesterday, Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, died aged 89 in Alabama at her home.
Her first book (and the only book until 2015) was published in 1960 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. It has sold more than 40 million copies since 1960.
I was introduced to her first novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in late 2014. I had heard about the book many times, I even had it on my Amazon wish list, but for some reason never got around to reading it. A friend of mine was 100 percent convinced I would love it and she was spot on. When she lent me her copy, I couldn’t put it down. It is one of those books that prevent you from doing anything other than reading, capturing your heart and mind — until the final page is turned.
I am very grateful for her part in shaping my reality through the introduction of new amazing minds and their stories.
This dramatic story about racial injustice in a small Alabama town is deeply moving – it tells of kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.
The main character, Atticus Finch, touched me to the core of my being as a father and as a compassionate human being, defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
In the 1962 film adaptation, the American Film Institute voted Atticus Finch, portrayed by Gregory Peck, the greatest hero of all American cinema.
Atticus as a simple man and most importantly as a father was something mystical to me, yet very human.
In chapter 11, Scout asks her father why he has taken the Tom Robinson case, with Atticus explaining that this case “goes to the essence of man’s conscience”. She objects, saying that perhaps Atticus is wrong, because most of the townspeople think he is. Atticus then replies, “they’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions…but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
That part of the book touched me very deeply, recalling part of my life, when I have failed or struggled to stay true to my conscience.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”.
It is not always easy to be yourself, it can be a struggle to determine your own identity, to follow your inner light, a challenge to live the life that is most real in your heart.
To me that journey is part of growth, part of freedom, part of making mistakes, learning, being vulnerable, letting go, accepting myself and embracing the new.
Here are my favorite timeless lines from this deeply touching classic novel:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
“I wanted you to 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 are liked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her view she died beholden to nothing and nobody. SHe was the bravest person i ever knew.”
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
“Atticus, he was real nice.”
“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fightin’ with your head for a change.
“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.
That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Last year HarperCollins published her second novel, “Go Set a Watchman”, that was written in the mid-1950s and is essentially the Mockingbird’s first draft. I haven’t read it yet, but it is on my list.
Rest in Peace, Harper Lee.