I have told every possible story I can tell about what To Kill A Mockingbird means to me. What I have not written about is what Harper Lee means to me. This is because, frankly, I have no idea what she means to me.
I was surprised to learn that she passed away last Sunday. I knew she was quite old. It never occurred to me that she would die. When a friend told me on Facebook, I felt very sad and then very quiet.
I never met Ms. Lee and had no intention of ever doing so. I know I should have wanted to thank her for all that she did for me, as would be polite, but I didn’t want to. In an email I wrote to Lorna while trying to sort out my thoughts, I said that “the very thought [of meeting her] horrifies me.” I never wanted to put a face or a voice or anything tangible to a woman whose book(s) I spent so much time, energy, and joy collecting. I wanted her to remain mythical, to me.
Is that bad? It absolutely is. It puts her on a pedestal, a place no person should ever have to stand. But as I wrote to Lorna “she was a legend in that we heard only stories about her for years.” I am wholly unwilling to learn more about her than the few gentle stories I already know. Signing books in her local bookstore until she found out that collectors were selling the books for an unreasonable amount of money. Eating at the same diner every day. Living with her sister. Quietly spending her days out of the spotlight. I do not have very many stories about her. I suspect she would like it that way.
I hope she spent the last few years of her life in the way she wanted. I hope that she was proud of the life she created. I hope she still had love for the books she wrote. I hope she knew that, for every high school and college student who is forced to read To Kill A Mockingbird and hates it, for every school board that bans it, for every person who plain doesn’t like it, there are people who love it beyond measure and reason, who are inspired to action because of it.
Maybe I didn’t want to meet her. Maybe I should have because selfishly? I hope she somehow knew how much love I have for To Kill A Mockingbird.
I believe that when we die, whatever we wanted to happen to us, happens to us. I hope she is where she wants to be.
Thank you, Ms. Lee.