50th Birthday of "To Kill a Mockingbird", Creativity, and Self Judgment...
It seems that a bunch of us on Facebook this morning were watching the same segment of CBS Sunday morning. They did a piece on the 50th Birthday of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, Harper Lee’s truly great American novel. What stuck with me most was the fact that Harper Lee not only didn’t give interviews, she didn’t write again saying that “She had nowhere to go but down.” I think this speaks volumes about the nature of creativity as well as our own self judgment.
Without a doubt Harper Lee changed the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. She told a straightforward story through the eyes of young Jean Louise about America, racism, the south, the American justice system, the right and the wrong of it, fatherhood, sexism, and the treatment of innocents. She got it all in in one readable book that could be taught and enjoyed in public schools for decades. I don’t know too many people who have never read the book or seen the the movie. My first roommate at college was even named Jean Louise after the young narrator. How could Harper Lee top that? How would we know unless she tried?
It’s a combination of books, comments, movies, current events, poems, paintings, teacher’s comments, bullies, blind dates, illnesses, tv shows, and what all that finally shape our hearts and minds. It’s rarely one thing. “To Kill a Mockingbird” had a profound effect on me when I first read it. But I also remember the same year, we had a field trip in our history class to criminal court. We all went to a live court session where a young African American man was on trial for swiping a purse. The evidence looked pretty bad against him. We were pretty sure he did it. The judge took a recess in the trial and came over and asked us to make a decision about whether or not he was guilty or innocent. We were a little shocked that he did that, but he knew why we were there. We deliberated. We voted. Guilty. It looked bad. The judge saw our verdict. And then he looked each every one of us in the eye and told us that if we were the jury the greatest injustice would happen today. He made it very clear that we had done the worst thing we could have done. We were about to send a man to prison even though there was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And he made it very clear to us that part of our decision was being made based on the man’s race. He sent us back to our seats and reconvened the court. With the bang of his gavel he said the state had not proven its case and looked at us again. I never forgot that moment. And I thought of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in that moment. My young mind was putting two and two together.
How does Harper Lee know that she could never top herself? How does she know that her next work might not have punched a few more people in the gut? How does she know the next novel wouldn’t have been the second punch like my visit to court for someone else? I’m sure she’s a lovely woman. I thank God for her. But oh how I wish that her self judgment had not gotten in the way of her relationship with the creative source that fed her and fed us. I’m sure that little southern town of hers sang the hell out of “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let it Shine”. If you are born to create, create. Create until you are dead, and let a higher source judge you later. Judgment seems to do nothing but stop the flow. Let’s get out our pens and paper!!! Topping ourselves is sometimes exactly what we are called to do.
c2010, Lisa Wiffledust