Sensibility: The Word According to Harper Lee (and others…).

The silhouette of a Mockingbird at sunrise symbolizing the sensibility and hope of a day.

Kaz / Pixabay

Sensibility: The Word According to Harper Lee (and others…).

Because my mother’s family has, for generations, resided in Alabama, I grew up absorbing a sensibility that was deeply Southern. A sensibility many were introduced to during their formative years while shaking hands with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Like “Scout,” the novel’s protagonist, my childhood was a multi-crayon scribble of small town habits clashing with the growing tides of cultural change: I, too, witnessed brave souls attempting to redraw the antiquated norms of prejudice masquerading as tradition.

Although coloring outside the lines was risky,

it was the sensible thing to do.

Lee, who died last month at the age of 89, was a celebrated early example of someone choosing to shun the status quo and, instead, sharpen her pencil to write an emotional outline for social justice.

Filling the pages of Lee’s semi-autobiographical masterwork is a hopeful sensibility that Atticus Finch (Scout’s lawyer father) patiently passes down to his daughter, despite oppressive surroundings and a tragic storyline: It is an optimism that holds at its core a belief that the world can (and one day will) be a better place.

Quote from To Kill a Mockingbird author, Harper Lee: People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.

As To Kill a Mockingbird unfolds, we become increasingly aware of how easy it is to cast the first stone – to follow the allure of fighting judgment with more judgment: It also becomes clear how transcendent it is to live selflessly – to take wing and rise above one’s fears for the greater good – because that’s what a sensible human being is supposed to do (just ask “Boo Radley”).

Lee’s recent passing made world headlines because her words continue to strike relevant chords as the prejudicial mindsets and unjust practices within her 1960 novel still linger –  but so do the story’s Idealism and Humanity.

Be the Bird, not the Stone

Last fall, my 90-year-old aunt moved from her comfortable Montgomery home of 50 years to a room in an assisted living facility – a place she says: “I like just fine.”

Over the weekend I called to tell her that Nick and I were getting married this summer. After exclaiming “well isn’t that wonderful,” Aunt Tay cordially asked what we’d like as our wedding gift. When I responded that her blessing was more than enough, she replied: “well, of course you have that…”.

As I hung up the phone my aunt’s distinctly Southern sensibility lingered: Tay was not concerned with the gender of the person I was marrying because she had chosen to cast judgment aside and align, instead, with the promise of my happiness and future.

As in To Kill a Mockingbird, the characters of my story portray the transformative power of human love and connection – and for that, I am both proud of and grateful for my upbringing.

Additional reading on the subject of equality and sensibility:

  1. “Tolerance is More than Putting up with Things – it’s a Moral Virtue.” The Conversation
  2. Equal Rights Make Sense for the U.S. EconomyThe New York Times

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