My first dog was named Scout. I didn’t pick that name. My parents named her. I was maybe a month old or so when they took home puppy Scout, (because what new parents don’t need an untrained puppy to make raising their first ever child that much more exciting,) so I didn’t really have any say in the matter. I first thought they decided to name her Scout because she always insisted on running ahead of everyone and “scouting” things out. Only later did my parents fully explain to me that they called her Scout so they could feel like Atticus Finch and/or Gregory Peck whenever they had to sternly yell “Scout!” at our misbehaving dog. Yeah, she proved just as adventurous and mischievious as her namesake.
To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my parent’s favorite books and movies of all time, so Harper Lee affected me through her work before I even read her stuff or knew who she was, as demonstrated by my beloved dog I had before I even knew the beloved book character. There’s not a whole lot of artists that can claim that level of influence on my life. Reading the book for the first time made me feel a deep connection with my family. Reading any book you know changed someone’s life or has an otherwise very personal connection for a person close to you is always such an enlightening experience. When I read that book in middle school, it was one of the few times I contemplated my parents as people while in the rather pouty haze of early puberty.
I must also say that I enjoyed the book immensely myself. I still haven’t come across very many writers who can put their adult prejudices aside and so perfectly capture the mind of a child. On top of that, of course, there was that beautiful message at once encompassing and transcending political and racial issues of that time and beyond. Don’t kill mockingbirds. Don’t harbor hate and loathing for people and things that only want to help people, be kind, or live their life.
When I heard Harper Lee died just a week ago, I wasn’t even sure how to take it. How do you handle the death of a hero that connects you so intimately with your family, your past? Sure, she was 89, and another lesson I’ve learned from my own family is that, at a certain point, there’s always a time where death is expected day to day, perhaps not even with that much fear or regret, but legends can’t die, can they? They can’t go through all the stuff “normal” people do, not when they’ve made such beautiful things for us, those mockingbirds.
At least, unlike a birdsong, Lee’s words are preserved and sure to continue singing that beautiful song on for many more years, maybe just to bored middle school English students, maybe to old fans, or, even better, to a new and curious little birds ready to drink in a beautiful new song to sing.
I just hope her work will continue to affect people like it did me, and my parents before me, and so many other people before. I don’t know if I have the right words to say how I really feel at a time like this, so allow me to use the words of someone who truly knew how to say things right:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”
-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird