mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

As it is written…

“Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself.  The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockinbird, 1960 by Harper Lee

One of the few books I have read multiple times throughout my life is the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee published in 1960.  Two years later, the film was released starring Gregory Peck.  Every few years, my wife and I watch this beautiful film; we never tire of it.  It is a book and film filled with life lessons of love and compassion, lessons we need even more today than we did 60 years ago.

The story focuses on an attorney, a widower, Atticus Finch.  Set in the 1930s in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, it is a story of racial injustice as Atticus Finch agrees to represent a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman.  The narrative is told through the eyes of Atticus’s 6-year-old daughter, Scout

Midway through the story, Scout’s older brother Jem, 10 years old, has a run-in with Mrs. Dubose, ‘the meanest woman who ever lived,’ an elderly neighbor who demeans their father when she shouts from her porch, “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash that he works for.”  Unperturbed, Atticus explains to his daughter why he chooses to represent Tom…

mockingbird
Atticus and Scout

“Tom Robinson’s case is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

[Scout responds]  ”Atticus, you must be wrong…”

“How’s that?”

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…”

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but

Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself.  The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

I’ve got to live with myself.

My father taught me that lesson – though maybe not intentionally – when I was not much older than Scout.  I never went to a barber until I entered high school in 1964 [we started high school in 10th grade].  Until that time, my father cut my hair every Sunday night in his workshop.  He gave me a crew cut because that is what he wanted; he never asked me my preference. 

Framed in wood on his wall was a poem, “The Man in the Glass.”  As he cut my hair, I sat still in the raised chair and read that poem over and over.  At a minimum, I read it 500 times.  No doubt, over the years I committed it to memory.  I still have that yellowed copy though the frame has long been broken.  I included it in The Vitruvian Man’s Book of Hours and repeat the poem every Monday afternoon as my ‘psalm.’  My copy attributes the author as ‘anonymous,’ but I’ve read articles claiming it was written by Peter Dale Wimbrow in 1934.  Regardless of its source, it is a powerful reminder of the importance of self-acceptance just as Atticus Finch taught his children in To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Man in the Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
and the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
and see what that man has to say

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts the most in your life
is the one staring back from the glass

Some people may think you’re a straight-shooting chum
and call you a wonderful guy
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
if you can’t look him straight in the eye

He’s the fellow to please never mind all the rest
for he’s with you clear up to the end
And you’ve passed your most dangerous difficult test
if the man in the glass is your friend

You may fool the whole world down the pathway
of life and get pats on the back as pass
But your final reward will be heartaches and
tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass

As it is written…

“Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself.  The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”


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