This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publishing of one of my all-time favorite books, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I have an old hard cover version which I picked up at a used book store many years ago. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it. One time on a family trip we listened to the unabridged audio book because I wanted to make sure my kids heard it. We also watched the movie together, which was surprisingly well done.
The other day I was in the library looking for an audio book for the car. I nearly always have one to listen to when I drive. As I was browsing the shelves I noticed “To Kill a Mockingbird” and decided it was time to listen to it again. For me, one sign of a truly worthwhile book is the desire to read it more than once. A so-called “classic” will yield new insights with each reading and such is the case with “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
Some of my readers know that we homeschooled/unschooled our kids from 4th and 7th grades through 12th grade. I haven’t shared too much about my philosophy of education here on this blog but let’s just say that the following passage expresses my views eloquently:
Atticus and my uncle, who went to school at home, knew everything – at least, what one didn’t know, the other did. Furthermore, I couldn’t help noticing that my father had served for years in the state legislature, elected each time without opposition, innocent of the adjustments my teachers thought essential to the development of Good Citizenship. As for me, I knew nothing except what I gathered from Time magazine and reading everything I could lay hands on at home, but as I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me.
In another passage, the kindly neighbor lady, Miss Maudie says something that reminds me of one of my dear grandmother’s sayings. Grandma loved God with all her heart and lived her life in such a way that everyone knew it without her having to tell folks. Even so, I can remember her remarking about someone that “he was so heavenly minded that he was no earthly good.”
This is how Miss Maudie put it:
“You are too young to understand it,” she said, “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of – oh, of your father.” “What I meant was, if Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn’t be as hard as some men are at their best. 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.”
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the gentle wisdom Atticus imparts to his children and the way he allows circumstances to teach them important life lessons. At one point, Jem is made to read to a cantankerous old woman every day for more than a month. It’s not until after she dies that Atticus tells Jem that his reading distracted her as she willfully weaned herself from the morphine she’d been addicted to for years. She knew she was dying and was determined to “leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody.” Atticus uses this to share his views on courage:
“She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe. . . son, I told you that if you hadn’t lost your head I’d have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her – 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 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 views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”
These examples of the wisdom to be found in this book are from Part One. I’ll probably share more later as they are brought to mind while listening to the audio book. If you’ve never read “To Kill a Mockingbird”, I encourage you to do so. It’s the sort of book that will remain with you always.