Monday, February 28, 2011

Walking to See Atticus Finch

This past Friday evening, I walked into the city to see an adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird at the York Theatre Royal on St. Leonard's Place. I first read the book when I was teaching at Farmington High School, and a colleague of mine, Russ Crist, was surprised that I had never before read Harper Lee's classic. So he gave me a copy of the book, and I read it with my lower jaw hanging off my face the entire time.

Among other things, I had the distinct impression that a question had been answered in my heart.

Namely: What does it mean to be a good man?

Atticus Finch was my answer. When I read the book for a second and then, recently, a third time time, I saw more and more to the character of Atticus Finch.

But walking into the center of the city where I live to see a real, live Atticus recite the lines which have been committed to my heart was an expedience unlike any previous play or movie had offered. The streets into the center were calm, and the occasional car whizzed past, but mostly the quiet, cool air encouraged me to think deeply and wonder willingly.

Even in the center of the city--where the Viking Festival was in its climax and an estimated 40,000 tourists were visiting--it still felt calm, quiet, almost like I wanted to ask, This is York, right?

I arrived to the theater twenty minutes before the show was to begin, and just reading the title To Kill a Mockingbird was enough to give me goosebumps. I already began to feel sorry for my friend Phil, who would meet me to view the show. He was rushing into the city on his bike after giving his young daughter a bath.

When Phil arrived, we made our way through the throbbing crowd within the entrance of the theater and found our seats in the gallery.

Now, I thought a gallery was where art was displayed, and also something that could be used in the phrase "peanut gallery" which meant, loosely translated, "a place high up or behind."  The gallery where Phil and I sat was both very high up and very behind all of the other seats. We were in the front row of the gallery, which I thought was wise of me to select, but when I saw the front row, I realized that we would have to lean forward, our elbows planted on the rail in front of us, to be able to see the whole show.

But I would have sat that way regardless.

From the moment the curtain rose to its decent, my eyes were wired to the stage, listening to Scout tell the story of her father, and the story of her own journey towards Experience, by way of a crash course in courage and justice.

I cried.


Multiple times.

And when, at the close of the play, Scout remarks to her father, "Boo Radley is actually a pretty nice man," Atticus replies, "Most people are, when you really see them."

That was it.

Man, that was it.

The tears flowed like the River Jordan. (Or like, here in York, the River Ouse.)

The thing about Atticus Finch is that he fought the case that needed fighting. He didn't take it because he thought he could win. He took Tom Robinson's defense because it was the right thing to do.

So much of the ways we live is based on results: what will happen; what our chances of winning are; what the expected yield is; who will see what we do; the praise we might garner; the pats on the back we might earn.

More important than worrying about how we'll be received or what we'll accomplish, Atticus Finch knew that the way WE see others matters more.

Much more.

Walking home through the quiet streets of York, my mind played the line again and again.

And when I walked through the door of our rented home on Lesley Avenue, seeing my wife in our living room, peeking into Tyler's room and praying over him as he slept peacefully in his uptruck pajamas with footies, and climbing into bed myself, the only line written on my heart was, indeed, his.

When you really see them.

Oh, to see that way. To see through eyes that hold out hope and push away judgment. And to fight not because our chances of winning are good, but because the truth behind the battle is worthwhile.

What a way to see. What a way to live.