When a Christian faces an obstacle, there is an immediate default to rely on Scripture, especially passages that feed the virtues of a man's soul. In like manner, we lean in and rely on the experience of those who have passed through similar valley's, whether they are in our real life circle or from the past such as a well known figure from the Bible. It's even more interesting when the passage comes from a seemingly inconsequential person's circumstance or story, the person on the margins and periphery of life.
If Flannery O'Connor is culturally a 'great Aunt', in my mind, Harper Lee is like a 'second cousin.' Like millions of individuals who have read her great work, To Kill A Mockingbird, I am deeply moved by the story, the plot, the characters, and not least of all, the implications for my life. Books and the stories told within are not always necessarily intended to teach us something. A writer may have done that from the outset, say for instance Harriet Beecher Stowe who indicates upfront, within her Preface, she wishes to impact the reader's mind regarding the the plight of the slave in her great work, Uncle Tom's Cabin. She states she wishes to 'awaken sympathy and feeling,' within the reader for the enslaved African in America. Thusly, she wishes to educate the reader.
But differently, Harper Lee, known by her closest friends and family as 'Nelle', does not express such in a preface or any interview about her book to my knowledge. She, in essence, delivered a beloved child and much like Hannah, presented it to the temple of all readers and offered it for the life it would have, separate from its early origins, to become what it would without input from her at all. She did not revisit the book in multiple interviews with reporters and in fact lived a quiet, secluded life between Monroeville, Alabama, and her New York apartment. The 'lesson' if one must be made, is the realness of TKAMB (To Kill A Mockingbird) and is the reader's to appreciate if they only will look closely at the characters. For I can assure you, while some are a composite, based upon friends and family, some most certainly represent ideals, I believe, Lee was herself wrestling with herself along with the rest of the United States of America when she published the book.
With this in mind, I suggest Mrs. Henry Layfayette Dubose. She is a hold-over from the seemingly distant Civil War, even when this book was published, 1960, and the time when it is set, not long after Franklin D Roosevelt's inaugural speech in 1933. There are still Confederate Veterans and Widows living among those who populate this small fictitious and true to life southern home town. Think about that for a moment. Mrs. Dubose appears is a widow, her health in great decline and her only companion is a young black girl who cares for her day and night. Her house serves as the boundary for Scout and Jem, two doors to the north of their own home, and the other is the Radley residence, three doors to the south. With one boundary of 'unknown entities' and mystery and the other of bitterness and defeat, Scout, the reader's narrator, describes Mrs. Dubose as 'plain hell.' Yet, they see their own good father treat Mrs. Dubose with the utmost kindness and she in turn speaks with reciprocal courtesy to him. She is humanized, personalized, appreciated. I have not sorted out for myself how much Atticus Finch, their widowed attorney father, knew about how she spoke to them, her incessant antagonizing . But, it is a point of interest to note what Mrs. Dubose seems to pinpoint as their transgressions. It is the loss of what their mother could have influenced, Scout's manner of dress, her casual manner of speech, and the implied inability of their father to care for them in her absence. Her attacks were based in loss and what might have been. She herself lives in a state of loss and bitter loneliness. It is rumored she carries under her lap blanket a Confederate pistol, perhaps more of a talisman than a weapon, a reminder of the sense of security and justice she once knew.
It is said if we knew the depth of our enemy's sorrows, we would no longer be enemies. While in the south many would disinguinely say about Mrs. Dubose, 'bless her heart,' genuine grace and kindness are what Atticus offers. He knows more. He is an adult, and as we find out, a keeper of private details about Mrs. Dubose and her affairs. As a lawyer, he has helped her in her most intimate matters about her estate. He knew she was soon to pass from this life and she wished to go unencumbered by the addiction to pain killing morphine. Jem's reading and the company they were required to give to Mrs. Dubose was much more than an act of penance for his tearing up her garden in response to her most critical comments.
I only noticed Mrs. Dubose in recent year's reading of TKAMB. She was such an inconsequential person compared to the blazing story created by Mayella and Tom Robinson. But yet, she tells a most tender element about what Atticus taught his children, about how to treat people, even those who might speak ill of you or even those you love. Jem in his immaturity can't see why Atticus is so generous in his kindness. But we like Jem can see that Atticus gave any way, and instructed those in his tutiledge to do so as well.
I am reminded of a familiar passage attributed to Mother Teresa called, 'Anyway.' Atticus guides us to not live in ignorance but be kind and true, anyway. A modern phrase the christian will often repeat, 'Even if.' Even if the the obstacle, the storm, the trial, the sickness, the loss, - we are called to press forward in refinement, just as the Silversmith refines us to better see His own image in us.
To Ada Monroe and her father, Inman, from the story 'Cold Mountain,' says, 'I believe God is weary of being called down on both sides of this war.' Perhaps He is tired of our fighting, but I believe He is more weary of us looking everywhere but to Him. I believe Mrs. Dubose wanted to hear her name called clearly when the Lord called her home. She wanted to be seen and known and endured the pain of withdrawal to experience God's presence more fully. She might not have put it that way, but I remember a contemporary in culture of her once doing something just so similar. My Nana returned to her name of birth, Vaden, before she passed. She had simply called her self Elizabeth as she didn't like her legal given name. She wanted no dishonesty before she left this physical world.
Finishing well. Letting go of the petty and small and seeing our neighbor in all their faults and flaws and loving them, just as they see our weaknesses and desperate need- not of a cheap platitude but of costly grace.