Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Harper Lee's Hero

I hope I get a little more time to read this summer. The best book I have ever read, besides the Bible, is To Kill A Mockingbird. One of the other best books I have ever read is Mockingbird: A Portrait Of Harper Lee which focuses on the writing of To Kill A Mockingbird. The hero of Lee's book is Atticus Finch, based on her father. The following comes from June 15, 2006.

There was a special on CBS last night about movies. I don't know the exact title but it had to do with the one hundred most inspiring cinematic offerings in history, counting in reverse order. Like most television programs, I only caught bits and pieces, but it was pretty good. They used short clips of the winners to remind us why these films make uplift us. The top ranking went to It's A Wonderful Life, the Christmas tearjerker starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I was more interested in the runner up, To Kill A Mockingbird. I rarely watch movies multiple times but I make an exception for the screen adaptation of Harper Lee's novel depicting life in the rural south: it is a masterpiece. Part of last evening's show included commentary by celebrities as each movie was revealed and discussed. I am not a big Whoopi Goldberg fan but she had an incredible insight on the chief adult character in this black-and-white classic: "Everybody wants an Atticus Finch in their life." That was brilliant. Atticus, played memorably by Gregory Peck, was the embodiment of heroism. By standing for the right, he became the conscience for the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama and in a sense, became a conscience for the nation. Whoopi was right; we want that person of greatness who makes a difference, not just in our own little corner, but in the larger community of mankind. In the little bit I viewed, it was apparent the movies that we are drawn to are based on a central character, real or fictional, who overcomes insurmountable odds to change the world: Rocky, Gandhi, Lawrence Of Arabia, High Noon. And Atticus Finch was the most heroic of all.

I don't know how it is with you but the people who have had the greatest impact on my life were the ones who were the most hard nosed. Teachers and coaches who didn't push me allowed me to be less than I could have been. The ones that demanded greatness out of me may not have always ended up with greatness but because of their high expectations, I didn't stay at that mediocre level where I was content to abide. Great people improve the quality of life of those in their vicinity just by being themselves. They exhibit consistent moral behavior, they place honor before financial gain or popularity, and they love without regard to outward appearances. I have noticed a phenomenon in my teaching and coaching over the years. The kids who I am the hardest on seem to love me the most, even though it might not show up for some time. That shouldn't surprise me. The teacher who was hardest on me in high school was my English instructor, Joe Berry. I despised him, and yet when I wrote my book, I centered a chapter on Mr. Berry and how he changed my life. I have had, as Whoopi put it, several Atticus Finches in my life, besides the ones who share my last name. Atticus set the bar at an uncomfortable level for his children and his community. Jesus did the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. It wasn't enough not to murder or commit adultery; he raised the standard to cover lust and anger. He gives us the chance to be better by simply demanding more of us than we think we can do. And we can do it, with his help and by his grace. I guess Jesus was Atticus Finch before there was Atticus Finch, spiritually speaking. And he is not fictional!

Applicable quote of the day:
"Gregory Peck was a beautiful man. Atticus Finch gave him the opportunity to play himself."
Harper Lee

God bless,
Luke 18:1

E-mail me at steve@hawleybooks.com


Jon said...

havent seen any of those movies..

Family fun said...

interesting; i have always respected the movie "to kill a mockingbird" and greogry peck did a marvelous job of portraying the character. i believe i saw a biogrophy on him that talked about how selective he was of the roles he played and that he chose that one because he felt it made a difference.