I am grateful for my friend Harper Lee.
Harper Lee has died and with her has gone my dream to sit with her in her back garden in Monroeville, Alabama, under a giant sycamore tree, sipping something cool. I would take notes and she wouldn’t mind because we are old friends, have been together since To Kill A Mockingbird and I were first introduced when I was in high school. I’d want to capture the essence of the responsibility that comes with putting our truth on paper, her sense of story-telling with a purpose. That can’t happen now. She has left me and left all those who were inspired by her.
I can continue to read To Kill A Mockingbird every other year as I have been inclined to do for the past forty years. In believing in Harper Lee, I came to believe in myself as a writer, not that I compare our talents in any way. Harper Lee was quiet and didn’t care for the classification of celebrity that the media christened her with, yet I’m certain she was grateful for those who loved her, loved her work, for writing was at the very core of her being, the chance she was willing to take, the courage to tell an important story.
To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and has sold 30 million copies around the world, remaining in print these many years. J Wayne Flynt, a close friend of Harper Lee for decades, gave her eulogy at the small private service that honoured her life and bade her farewell on February 20th, 2016. Lee heard the eulogy five years prior to her death at a ceremony honouring Lee and her fine book with a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Birmingham Pledge Foundation. She asked Flynt to read his speech at her funeral as her eulogy and if he should pre-decease her she would have someone read it for him.
The essence of the eulogy brought recognition to a story that could have happened anywhere in this world, where we are willing and eager to beat down those who differ from us. To Kill A Mockingbird continues to ring true, a story of the human experience. Atticus Finch is the hero to which we should all strive to be, a man who recognized injustice and cruelty and stood up in the midst of it to speak for those silenced by racism.
My life has been better because Harper Lee was in it. I take great comfort in knowing that To Kill A Mockingbird will live on long after I have gone, and will keep inspiring society to do better, will shine the light in a darkness that breeds harm.