The news of Harper Lee’s death this week sits heavy on my heart. You see, Ms. Lee, through her incredible book, To Kill A Mockingbird, changed me. I vividly remember digging into the words and images as the first book we read in 9th grade English. Her power with words and ability to create characters amazed me. Yet, beyond her skills as a writer, it was her courage to tackle real, difficult, powerful questions of race and social injustice that opened my eyes to our power to use our talents in the world. Her convictions, as embodied brilliantly in Atticus Finch, rooted themselves deeply into my heart.
I found out about her death from my mom who knew that I would mourn this death in a way I don’t normally mourn the passing of a celebrity. My mother’s morning text, “Harper Lee has passed”, was not what I expected and sent me contemplating the woman herself. She published one novel for the majority of her life. Her legacy was wrapped up in the quality of this particular novel, not the quantity of what she put out in the world. She used her talents bravely, to challenge our hearts and minds on a topic that remains relevant still. As a female creative whose heart deeply desires to make lasting, effective change in this world, her life encourages my heart. It is so easy to get caught up in the desire to produce vast quantities of art, to amass followers and popularity, and to feel as if my value is tied to my output. Then I quickly remember that Harper Lee’s legacy is in one quality work of art that will continue to live on long after her. Her legacy will forever be words that challenge hearts and expand minds. This is incredibly beautiful.
A few weeks ago my mentor challenged our group to a self-portrait and I knew I wanted to document my love of reading. It was no coincidence that my hands grabbed for this powerful piece of literature. It often jumps off the shelf and reminds me of why my heart loves it so. Thank you, Harper Lee for inspiring me to be brave and to make meaningful art. I pray God will use my art to show the beauty of all family, regardless of race, to the world in the same way your words did.
Some of my favorite lines from To Kill A Mockingbird:
“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’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”
“With him, life was routine; without him, life was unbearable.”
“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” I smile when I saw this line from Harper, as told by Scout, when she described her love of reading. I had not thought of it this way before but it is so true. I love reading the way I love breathing, subconsciously and because I need it to survive. Powerfully written words fill my heart and stir my soul in a way I cannot adequately describe. Now I am off to remember this amazing woman in the best way I know how, by visiting Atticus, Scout, Jem and Boo Radley in the pages of her legacy. Thank you for this gift, Harper Lee.
See my favorite actor of all time, Gregory Peck, deliver one of the best speeches ever, created from the brilliance of Harper Lee, here. Buy your own copy of this work here and then let me know in the comments which book made an impact on you. I would love to add it to my list of books to read.