What can I say about a story that’s been a classic book, movie, and backdrop to American history?
I can tell you that I’ve had this book in my collection for years, unread. I tried but never got into it.
Or maybe I did… read it, I mean… back in the days of high school or college, where it was required reading.
My mom was talking about it again – it’s a favorite of hers – and I finally decided, come hell or high water, I was gonna read the darned thing.
So, for the last week, I’ve taken To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee to bed, to work, and tucked in my purse, to read while waiting in lines or in my car.
Here’s what I noticed first…
It certainly felt familiar.
My mother said, “Maybe you watched the movie?”
“Maybe,” I said.
I couldn’t put it down.
When I finished it, I was at work. Alone. I was glad about that. This is not a book you finish, throw back onto the bookshelf, and go on your merry way.
Not if you’re thoughtful.
So, what did I think about?
I thought of a man I once knew. He was smart, handsome, and funny. He had an excellent job as a county sheriff. We met at a disco. It was 1979.
We went out to dinner. I noticed people staring at us as we walked to our table. Did they always do that, I asked. Yes, he said, especially when he was with a beautiful woman. I knew better. It was because he was black and I was white.
Surely we’d moved on from such things?
I brought him to a friend’s house for a hot tub party. Days later, my friend’s father was bleaching the tub. She was fine with my date, she said, but her father…
It wasn’t long before the scrutiny seemed too much to bear. For me. Not him.
He’d heard it all before, of course, but hadn’t expected to hear it from me.
He loved me, he said. I said I loved him too… and was sorry.
He sent me one last vase of a dozen red roses after I broke up with him.
I thought of a beautiful black galpal from the 1990s, separated from her husband, heavily pregnant with her third child, looking for an apartment in the high desert of California. She held the rental section of the newspaper while I drove us place-to-place. My older daughters watched her young sons at home.
We found a beautiful place with green grass and a playground – perfect for children. We stood on a walkway, waiting, while the couple in front of us talked to the apartment manager. He handed them a paper and told them to come back later. They were all smiles.
We stepped forward. “Who is the apartment for?” He asked. My friend said it was for her and her children. “Sorry, no openings,” he said, never cracking a smile. Then he turned away.
“Wait, that couple in front of us. I heard you…” I said.
My friend touched my arm. “Don’t,” she said.
When we got back in the car, she said she never fought for something like this. She and her children were not welcome. There was no reason to push.
I remember thinking… is it still like this… in *these* days?
I thought of … today … and all the ways we still hear of biases and prejudices against people of color. How entire cities and populations of people are ignored as if they don’t exist, or purposely left out, or mocked, beaten … killed.
And who am I? An expert in the field?
No, just an observer.
Like so many of us.
My heart breaks and aches for all marginalized humans. I find I’m kind-of a blubbering mess about it these days… and why not?… one needn’t look far…
To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned in some places…
They say – whoever “they” are – it’s for language. The n-word is used throughout.
But no more jarring than a black man being blamed for something he clearly didn’t do…
To the point of death.
No, that would never happen these days. Right?
I could list and link a dozen stories that have occurred in the last few years… most of which we all know very well.
This book is an exquisitely told story about life in 1930s America.
It was required reading in schools and universities throughout the years. It should be!
In my opinion, it should be required reading for all humanity.
It is a reminder of where we’ve been and where we’re going.
It’s about dignity, legacy, and hope.
No, it’s not just about one man … one trial … or one family.
It’s about ***our*** family – the family of (wo)man.
And we have work to do.