A perfect birthday gift for me

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is my favourite book of all times. Although a few others have come close, none move me the way Harper Lee’s writing does.
I carry the novel around with me like a Bible—a source of inspiration and comfort and hope. I often have it in my purse, certainly in my writing bag, and sometimes sitting on my bedside table, where I can see it when I waken and just before I drift off to sleep.
When my creative juices run thin, I open any page and read for five or six minutes and am transported to another dimension; a place of calm where both my writing energy and positive thinking are restored.
Nelle Harper Lee will be 86 on April 28 of this year; her birthday the day before mine. My Grandpa Stewart always thought my birthday was on the 28th. Each year he gave me a card and in the corner he meticulously printed the year, followed by April 28th.
I never corrected him and at some point as a young adult in my ambition building plans, I took the almost matching birthdays as a sign that I should strive to write about things that matter; to seek justice and truth in even the most unlikely places. That though I will never come close to the literary genius of Lee, I should still try.
And as a result, I have read her novel no less than 20 times and I continue to aspire, to dream, to imagine my own fiction touching just one soul in the way “To Kill a Mockingbird” has touched mine.
I’m sure each of us, or most of us, remember some literary work that influenced us in a personal way—even if it was Dick and Jane in our primary readers. There is some written word that we climbed upon and hooked ourselves to in order to journey somewhere away from ordinary; somewhere we couldn’t go on our own.
There is nothing I admire more than those who go about doing things right, guarded by integrity and decency, especially in the face of opposition, especially when others use the words can’t and shouldn’t and don’t.
Undoubtedly in 1959, when Lee penned her only published work of fiction, she witnessed the tremendous inhumanity of racism and prejudice of many kinds, yet she chose to write something that exposed the truth and brought about change.
Every person who read “To Kill a Mockingbird” couldn’t help but pause and consider the truth, no matter their politics.
Have we come very far since this brilliant masterpiece was published in 1960? Have 52 years brought us to our senses and realized there is no place for racism or prejudice in our lives, or are we still spinning our tires without really finding traction?
Are we closer to understanding and accepting the differences in each other? I wonder.
And I wonder why Harper Lee kept herself away from the fanfare and noise of celebrity. Why she took so few bows, didn’t bask in the celebration of her talent.
I suspect she poured her very soul into that novel and perhaps she knew its force; felt the shift after it reached print and was quickly awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.
Whatever her reasons, I admire her determination to let her work speak for itself.
So this year, as my birthday approaches, I find myself wishing I could sit and have a lemon-aid with Nelle Harper Lee on her veranda. I imagine her front porch to be like the veranda of Betty Anderson’s home, where Cheryl and I played pretend on lovely summer days.
I would quietly ask Ms. Lee to tell me her story and that of Boo Radley and his timid gentle heart, and how he finally came into the light. I would close my eyes and just hear her voice, sharing the secrets of her truth and how she came to put the words on paper.
What a perfect birthday gift that would be.
wendistewart@live.ca

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