We now have to live in a world without Harper Lee. I’m not okay with it. Her words were so poignant, their impact so grand which is in such deep contrast to the small elderly woman with the wide smile we see in all the photographs being posted of her.
I first read To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM) in the 8th grade. I was 13 and it was the year I found TKAM and The Outsiders. My two greatest loves in this world. Before then, I always dabbled with the idea of writing but after reading those books, the notion of being a writer was solidified in my mind. I wanted to do what Harper Lee did. I wanted to make a difference. I still do.
“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.” These words were spoken to tomboy Scout. One of the first literary characters I ever saw myself in. My whole life, I’ve been gearing up for a fight. Always defensive. The quote above makes me stop and think. Think about whether or not I want to be in a fight. Whether or not someone is even starting a fight with me or if I’m being too sensitive. It’s usually the latter.
I have yet to find another literary father figure I love and admire more than Atticus Finch. Despite, a lot of people’s opinions on Go Set A Watchman (GSAW), I loved it. People seemed upset about the way Atticus is portrayed in a different light. But the truth is, in TKAM, we all saw Atticus through the eyes of a little girl. We saw her father, her hero, the conscious of Maycomb County.
In GSAW, Harper Lee makes us grow up. She forces us to see our parents for who they really are, the good and the bad. I didn’t feel betrayed by this portrayal. In fact, I felt as if Scout had come full circle. She loved her father, she admired her father, she hated her father, she forgave her father. We all have to do it and I, for one, was glad to have my friend Scout back to help me through it.
I have loved a lot of books in my life. But TKAM has stuck with me through it all. It’s been there for me during periods of my adolescence and adulthood.
It’s there when I need a friend. It’s there when I need to feel the sweltering heat of Maycomb instead of the cold winds of Philadelphia. It’s there when I need to feel like a child again. Or when I need Boo to look out for me.
Harper Lee is gone but she accomplished what this writer wants to accomplish. She left us her characters. I still have the ability to go home tonight, pick up one of the three copies of TKAM that I own, and dive back into that world. To run around with Jem, Scout and Dill. To stand up in the balcony of the court house because my literary father is passing.
I will never forget her or her words or the impact she’s had on my life. I’ll leave all of you writers with this Harper Lee quote.
“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”
Stand up writers, Harper Lee is passing.