A couple of weeks ago I found myself reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I had it on my summer reading list and it was just the next book on the stack. But as I began to read it, things began to jump out at me. Comments here and there about religion, race, and the Bible. My ears perked up pretty high when one of the characters commented how the “foot-washers” believe “women are a sin by definition”. The story began to touch something deep within me. It brought up emotions in a fierce kind of way- and I’m not big on emotions. Especially ones that arise because of a novel.
The world of Maycomb County fascinated me. A world so different from my own. So different from anything I ever experienced. A small, southern town where everyone knew everyone else, kids were outside all day every day, rich people ruled the poor, and black people separated from white. Life was relatively simple. Except it wasn’t. People based their worth on their status and skin color. It determined the roads they walked, the church they attended, and the jobs they could work. They lived to please the neighbor next door. The ridiculous expectations of social customs ruled their days and their lives.
I couldn’t help but wonder, what rules ours?
I finished Mockingbird and to my delight, discovered Harper Lee’s sequel, Go Set a Watchman, was being released two weeks later. “Wait! I have so much to process first,” I thought. I wasn’t planning on reading it just yet, but three days before it was released I stumbled onto a negative tweet. I discovered Time wrote a review- and it wasn’t good. What?! I quickly went to Amazon and ordered a copy. I had to see what was going on with Atticus. “He’s not who you thought he was”, I heard. The Time magazine with the review arrived in my mailbox, but laid untouched on my counter. I refused to read it. There had to be another reason.
On release day, Go Set a Watchman landed on my doorstep. I opened it cautiously, but curiously. Within the first chapter I found myself whisked back to life in Maycomb, Alabama. “It feels good to be back”, I thought. I tried to read slowly, I wanted to stay there. But page after page I found myself once again, captivated, this time in a different way.
Scout or Jean Louise (whatever name you like best for her), isn’t much different from me. I imagined myself responding and reacting like she did as a twenty something. Overcome with passion and belief, she couldn’t handle the glimpses of imperfection in those she looked up to. To her, Atticus could do no wrong and the simple notion that he might have, crushed her. She couldn’t even face him.
I’ve been there. People I looked up to as a child (leaders and pastors especially) led me through life with their held set of beliefs. They taught me, helped me grow, but one day, I was on my own. It took a while, but eventually I got some footing and finally started living. And then one day I turned around to find myself separated from those I looked up to, believing different from those who taught me to believe. Who is right? Who is wrong? Me or them? Maybe we both are.
No one is perfect. Not even Atticus. We all have weaknesses somewhere, but hopefully we still love those who might get it a little wrong, those who might not believe every single point we believe.
Many of us are in a habit of idolizing people. We crave the thought of someone to look up to and emulate. But every human being at some point will let you down. We know we aren’t perfect, but we can’t handle the idea that someone we idolize isn’t perfect.
I want to lead and teach my kids, and I hope they follow me. But when they grow up, I hope they grow past me and do bigger things than I ever did or will. My goal is to set them up for success, not be a lid for them to fight growing past.
Atticus was a good man, a good father, but not a perfect one. Scout needed a little glimpse into his humanness and come to terms with it. Is he a completely different man than the one we first met in To Kill a Mockingbird? Far from it. Is he hiding the real him? No. He’s a man who lived during a time that was under tumultuous change doing the best he could. Did he get it all right? No. But I think Scout could still love him and build on what he taught her to continue to change Maycomb County for better. After she can stand on her own two feet.