There’s not much I can say about Nelle Harper Lee that hasn’t already been said. Every bit of sadness I feel right now is felt across the state, the country, the world.
How could I ever begin to articulate how she changed my life, the lives of so many others? But the emotions — the sadness, the affection, the hopefulness — I feel when I look at that raggedy, read-to-death paperback tells me I owe the woman at least a few words.
Like every other American who attended high school sometime in the last 50 years, "To Kill a Mockingbird" came into my life during a time I wasn't sure who I was or who I wanted to be.
This won't come as a shock to most people, and I'm sure it won't sit right with a few, but growing up as an opinionated young woman in the South isn't the easiest thing in the world. Harper Lee helps.
Don't get me wrong — I never had to fight for my right to vote, my right to an education or my right to work in a male-dominated field. I'm lucky. But still, sometimes deep-rooted and outdated ideologies can make you feel like you're overstepping your bounds when you disagree with a man, even when you know you're right.
Harper Lee's simple genius destroyed those thoughts. With "To Kill a Mockingbird," she challenged gender norms, advocated for workplace equality and explored what it means to be a girl. She also tackled racial injustice and social ethics with unparalleled modesty, integrity and grace.
As a woman. In 1960. In Alabama. That kind of bravery is unfathomable. Ms. Lee made me want to be better. I never spoke to her, but she told me my ideas matter.
Everyone who reads her words is a better person for having read them, whether they know it or not. She inspired generations, and she'll inspire future generations, to stand up for what's right. People like Atticus Finch do exist, even though it may not seem like it right now. That's because of her.
For that, I am thankful.
"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
-Harper Lee, "To Kill a Mockingbird"