When I died I got to see my life, first through my own point of view, then through the effects my thoughts, deeds, actions, words and every other thing had on others. I felt the pain I caused. I felt the joy too. I felt the worry, the anger, the jealousy, the love, the longing… I felt it all. In death there was no judgment but this. This was enough.
Harper Lee is doing this right now. She is feeling the effects that her life and her words have had on generations of people. Tucked in there, among the throngs of others, are mine. I wonder how she feels to experience how she made us all feel.
The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird I was 12 years old. I cried tears of rage and frustration over racism, hitting home for me for the first time. My life changed the day I opened that book. I began an innocent, not much older than Scout. The words wove their spell and as the story unfolded I found my core of righteousness, an understanding that I would forever be like Jeb, standing between Atticus and the mob.
I read it again at 22. The soft, gentle southern charms of Atticus stuck with me that time. I aimed to find my own version of such a man as he. I did find him… eventually. Kindness, gentleness, never boasting, my American Husband is my Atticus, continuing the legacy of quiet strength.
At 34 I read it while I was pregnant with my daughter. It taught me about being a little girl again. And it taught me about being a parent. The beauty of the words mingled with my hormones, making me weep ragged tears.
My well worn paperback helped me through some dark days, in my mid 40’s. The soothing cadence, the sweet song of the children’s voices, and the discovery of Boo again reminded me that there is always someone hiding just out of sight, helping and protecting me through this life.
Harper Lee created a tapestry of words, a delicate arch connecting me with myself, through 5 decades. I picked it up again today, just as Spring is promised with the song of the birds outside my window. My heart is filled with gratitude for this woman. Her words defined my evolution. As she feels the effects of each ripple she has had on humanity, I know my thanks will be added to the millions.
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow…”
And so it begins again, for the first time.