This past week I have been rereading To Kill a Mockingbird, probably one of my favorite books of all time. It is a classic story told from the perspective of Scout Finch of Maycomb, Alabama. She is daughter of lawyer Atticus Finch, one of the most respected figures of the small town but also the most controversial. If you are familiar with the story, you know that Atticus takes on a case that is hotly debated in his time, choosing to defend an African American man accused of raping a young white woman.
Throughout the book we get small glimpses into the life of Atticus. He is relatively simple, conveying wisdom to his children concerning things such as decency and not retaliating in response to wrongdoing, imploring them to be peaceful to other people and to “walk in their skin” instead of judging them. He is quiet-natured, a true gentleman, and asks simply for people to respect each other. He never yells at his children, nor does he become indignant when they are clearly defying him. He gently corrects them, and tries to hear them out before taking action. With his peers, he is always polite but not indifferent, he challenges the perceptions of those around him but never condescends them. He speaks about trying to have a clear conscience, about choosing what is right over what is comfortable. Atticus is a rare character, he is not without his flaws, and yet he is a witness to the fact that humans can truly transcend the natures that often pull them down into mediocrity and sluggishness. He is the mockingbird that sings a beautiful song to the rest of us listening.
I remember first watching the film starring Gregory Peck and being in awe of Atticus. He was such a mystery, and at the same time there was nothing intimidating about him. He simply chose to do the right thing, to live with a free conscience and be an example to his children and to his town. Often when I think about the figure of Christ, I am reminded of Atticus andof his conduct, of his gentleness equaled with his ability to transform. Our culture is void of these characters, both in fiction and in nonfiction, on print and in reality. Where has Atticus Finch gone in our culture? Where have the gentlemen gone? How do we begin to reclaim that character in this culture?