Today I remember Harper Lee, a writer who threw me a lifeline by sharing her words of encouragement, tolerance and integrity.
Because of her words, I was able to shift my perspective and somehow make some sense of myself and the world around me as a confused teenager.
Harper Lee’s book, To Kill a Mockingbird, was and still is one of my favorite books—for reasons so obvious.
I would like to share an excerpt of my book The Little Guide to Contemplation to show you why:
“Starting my search for the meaning of life as a teenager, I dived into all kinds of books, marking lines that spoke to me (much to the nuisance of the local librarian), and noting sentences I wish I had written myself on a small pad. I can still remember the first time I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and came across Atticus Finch’s words ‘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 was dumbfounded at the spot. Of course, what a precious little nugget of truth! So true, so meaningful… but what did it really mean?
I wrapped my mind around these words for days, letting these words reside within me. Waking up with the words, brushing my teeth with these words, spending all day with these words, going to bed with these words. I desperately wanted to make the truth of these words my own. I instinctively knew these words would help me, heal me, show me in some way how to deal with whatever I was struggling with (which I guess was life in general, as it is for teenagers.)
All that obsessing over words might seem a little bit overdone, and maybe it was. But at the end of the day (or rather a few days), these words became mine in a way that benefitted me most. I felt strengthened by these words, inspired to take action, and find out my place in this confusing world. By taking these words into me, and harbouring them in my heart, I could take a good look at myself, position myself in the events that were occurring, and get a clearer perception of myself.
Letting the words take space within me allowed me distance myself from the drama that was going on in my teenage life. Taking a distance helped me to stop myself from being carried away by the situation. I felt more in control and began to see choices and possibilities that I hadn’t seen before. A clear insight occurred to me.
Letting these powerful, positive words reside in me invoked action in me. Looking back, Atticus’s words made me try to unravel my relationship with myself. How to live with myself before I could live with myself? Not an easy one. At the time, I was a real tough cookie, difficult on my surroundings, and especially on myself. Living with myself, trying to take some distance between me and my so-called self, looking at how I treated myself, was not easy to face up to. But I loved the challenge. The pleasant side effects? I became calmer and more relaxed. My friends will tell you I truly became easier on my surroundings! And I guess also on myself.”
This weekend I’m going to reread the book that has had such a profound influence on me—for me the best tribute ever to one of the greatest writers ever.
Author: Elle Lohuis
Editor: Caitlin Oriel