There are events in history that develop into defining moments. July 4, 1776 for the United States. July 20, 1969 for all mankind. November 9, 1989 for Berlin. I didn’t know it at the time but the autumn of 2004 would become a defining moment in the history of my life.
Mrs. Hamil-Cole, my ninth grade English teacher, stood in the front of the brightly lit classroom. The whole left side of the room was cased with large windows. It was nice. You never felt like you were trapped inside a prison when you had class in a room that lined the perimeter of the school. Her elbows rested at a forty-five degree angle on her wooden podium as she leaned forward to read from the open book in her hand.
“‘First of all,’ he said, ‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…’
‘Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’’
I found myself lost in these words the same way I was the night before as I read them over and over again. I’d read a lot of books in my short fourteen years of existence, and I really do mean A LOT OF BOOKS, but never had one reached out and tugged at my heart the way that To Kill a Mockingbird just did.
For three whole weeks we dissected, devoured, and ingested Harper Lee’s words. I was so deeply moved by this literary masterpiece and the way it connected to each and every one of us in the room that I made the decision to become an English teacher. Since early childhood I wavered between the idea of being a librarian or being a teacher. One day I’d say I want to be a librarian, then the next day I’d say I want to be a teacher. A complete back and forth, up and down, never making up my mind routine. Being a librarian would have been great. I could recommend books to kids, create reading challenges, and decorate the library with extravagant displays. Being an English teacher, though, I could help kids understand the beauty of the words they read and help shape the way they looked at the world and the people within it.
I picked this book up to reread again because Go Set a Watchman is scheduled to release on July 14. The story unfolds 20 years after To Kill A Mockingbird and features my favorite characters: Scout and Atticus Finch. I have mix feelings about this book release. A part of me is eager to travel back to Maycomb County and experience another journey with these characters, but the other parts of me are leery of this new book. At nearly 90 year olds, Harper Lee, who is hard of hearing and has poor eyesight, will release her second novel. The manuscript of Go Set a Watchman was actually finished in the mid-1950s —before Mockingbird was published in 1960— but Lee set it aside when her editor suggested she write about Scout's flashbacks. The manuscript was only recently found among some papers her publicist and attorney were looking through. Many feel that Lee’s been taken advantage of in her old age. Aside from the controversy and the mystery of how the manuscript was located, a larger part of me fears this book will not be as magnificent as Mockingbird and I’ll be left sad and disappointed.
Because Mockingbird means so much to me, I wanted to share with you, my readers, five important lessons I learned from it.
Lesson 1: Don’t let ‘em get your goat.
There are people in life that want nothing more than to belittle, poke-fun, shame, and ridicule others. They seek to steal people’s goats, their inner peace. Having spent most of my life as an oversensitive individual, I know how easy it is for the “goat stealers” to leave an impact. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is the biggest lie ever recited. Words have a way to fester into the deepest corners of your brain and linger there long after physical wounds have disappeared. It’s hard to shake them away, to erase them from your consciousness. You want to get angry, to lose your temper, to fight back the pain, but when you give the goat stealers the power to really upset you, to change how you see yourself, they win. So hold your head high, stay true to yourself, and don’t let others rob you of your joy.
Lesson 2: Hatred of any kind-not just racism-is a deadly venom that will destroy you.
Just like a tapeworm burrows into you sucking away at your life source so too will hatred burrow into your heart. It will attach itself and quickly takes over. As it slithers through the chambers of your heart, manipulating you with its whispers to hate and hate and hate, it leaves behind its path of destruction till your heart is hardened and covered in its poison. Even the smallest seed of hatred will find a way to manifest itself, to demand your attention and take away the feelings that matter. Hatred of the color of a man’s skin, hatred of another man’s religion, hatred of a man’s culture, hatred of___ you fill in the blank. It doesn’t matter what kind, because if you don’t eradicate the hatred, it will consume you till nothing is left.
Lesson 3: We need to see life through the eyes of children.
“I think there is just one kind of folks. Folks.” Scout beautifully makes this statement towards the end of the novel, and Jem reaffirms her thinking when he mentions he believed the same thing. Through the eyes of a child people are seen as people. There’s no black, white, rich, poor, smart, dumb. People are viewed as equals in Scout’s eyes. Atticus, too, hold these words as truth. When it comes down to it, we are just that: people.
Lesson 4: This truth is worth fighting for even if you’re fighting a losing battle.
If there is one lesson which applies to all facets of life it's lesson four. Truth and justice matter. It is worth our time and effort for others to see what is just and fair. We must fight for what’s right even if no one will listen or care. We stand up for the truth because it matters. The moment we stop fighting for what is right is the moment we lose it forever. Yeah, it's tough fighting a losing battle but it must happen.
Lesson 5: The world needs more Atticus Finches.
This book rips open my heart each time I read it. I’m forced to reevaluate the way I see others and the manner in which we conduct our lives and I always come to the same conclusion. The world needs more men and women who will camp outside prison cells at night to protect the innocent. Men and women who teach their children to be kind and understanding to people in all circumstances. Men and women who attack tough situations with tenacity and confidence, who think with both their head and their heart. Men and women who are slow to anger and abounding in love, who fight with their words instead of their fists. Men and women who are not ashamed to stand up for what's right —even if they stand alone— so that justice is brought to light. Men and women who see past the prejudice that corrupt our past, present, and future and instead see individuals for who they truly are. The world needs more people who will embody the courage, grace, selflessness, and wisdom of Atticus Finch.
Stay tuned for my thoughts on Go Set a Watchman; the book arrives on my front steps on Tuesday. In the meantime, you can head over here and read the first chapter. Make sure you check out the designs below inspired by the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. I had a lot of fun making these prints. Enjoy!
These prints are supplied from Whispering Words Design and are available for your personal use. You may not use these downloads for professional or commercial use.