Thursday, July 30, 2015
Go Set A...Memory
My wonderful, Literary-Leaning son Jared surprised me with a gift copy of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's original manuscript of what eventually became her opus To Kill a Mockingbird. Actually, he told me he got me a copy. It didn't matter; either way, I felt terrible when I said, "Oh, Jay, thank you so much! How thoughtful. But I hope you can return it or give it to someone else. I'm not going to read it. I just can't. I can't bear to have Atticus ruined for me. I have a lot invested in him." And it's true.
Oh, sure, there's the almost thirty years I taught the book, teasing out the finer points of his character, analyzing and illuminating his famous address to the jury in the Robinson case, and stopping the film every single time my more vocal students would say, after Bob Ewell spit in his face, "If I was Atticus, I'd knock him out!" in order to explain why maybe they would, but a man like Atticus never, ever would.
No, I have a lot invested in Atticus because I parented based upon the Atticus Model. I don't lie to my children, and I have always spoken to them like they have sense. I have tried to be patient and be confident that, in the long run, their better nature will assert itself and they will eventually do The Right Thing. The To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus taught me that. He also taught me that this kind of parenting will encourage my kids to feel as if they could ask me anything. As I said to Jared, I'd prefer to have the To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus be the seminal Atticus for me, forever.
Memory is a fragile and unpredictable thing. We can't always choose what we will remember or what we will lose to oblivion. This is part of the reason why I don't go to funerals and memorials even when the services are touted to be Celebrations of a Life. "Oh, Nance," you might say, "my aunt's wake was a big party! We all laughed and told our favourite stories! It was a great time!" But your aunt wasn't there, and it was still tinged with that sadness. And her immediate family had to deal with all the arrangements and be there, tired or not, grief-stricken or not. Not one memory from my father's funeral comforts or cheers me. And now, whenever I think of one of my former students, all I can see is his face in his coffin. Both of these facts cause huge waves of resentment; I don't want those memories.
In our lives we will have sorrow. Our loved ones will die, people will disappoint us. Our heroes will prove to have feet of clay. But sometimes, we are lucky enough to be able to avoid small sadnesses and hurts. We can choose our memories, even by keeping some intact.