She sang her heart out for us

Stop the Presses column by Chris Graham

I just finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird, and lemme tell ya …

It’s a cryin’ shame that my high-school English teacher had us watch the movie instead.

I understand why. Harper Lee was true to 1935 Alabama in her language, and it included an uncomfortable, to say the least, amount of n-words and depictions and the rest.

But that said, you know, and this is true so many times, but the movie didn’t do the book justice.

You leave a screening of the film, and no disrespect to the filmmaker, but it wasn’t all about Atticus Finch just doin’ the right thing.

I read the book because my local community is involved in The Big Read, and the city library asked my wife and I if we would allow ourselves to be photographed reading the book as part of a newspaper promotion of the event.

“Well, I gotta read it now,” I remember saying out loud more than once during the shoot.

My senior-year English teacher had my class watch the movie and then do a paper on the story, which according to the movie has Atticus Finch sending his hometown into a tizzy because he does an admirable job defending a black man accused of raping a white woman.

The movie inspired me for a time. I decided after watching it that I was going to be Atticus Finch, and hang up a shingle in my hometown and do the right thing no matter what the personal cost and the rest.

Law school, more to the point, the expense of law school, disabused me of the notion that I could ever do more than be a glorified process-server, but the idea still motivates me today.

I’m even more motivated now that I’ve finally read the book.

Because the detail in the pages has me thinking that it wasn’t about just doin’ the right thing at all. No, the point that Lee was tryin’ to get us to see is that your goal shouldn’t merely be to go about doin’ the right thing, but doin’ the right thing without any expectation that somebody’s goin’ to pat you on the back for it.

I came to that realization upon finally finding out through reading the book what the title of the book meant. It first came up in the pages when Atticus had arranged for his children to get air rifles for Christmas. He sent the message to them that they could shoot blue jays, but they were never to shoot a mockingbird, because all mockingbirds do is sing their hearts out for us, and they ask for nothing in return.

Doin’ the right thing and not gettin’ a pat on the back for it. A novel concept, ain’t it?

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Harper Lee never wrote another book, despite our many lamentations on the matter.

She already sang her heart out for us once.


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