A friend texted me just moments ago. The great Harper Lee has passed.  I’m not ashamed to say I am shedding a few tears.

Before  JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series, Harper Lee was my first literary hero.  I know – heroes are a dangerous thing, and perhaps we shouldn’t have them- but I don’t know that I fully agree with that.  I stand by the term for Harper Lee.

I’m a lifelong reader, but To Kill A Mockingbird sparked something in me that no other book had.  I still have the highlighted, underlined, dog-eared copy from Mrs. Reid’s ninth grade English class.  But I also have hardback of both the 35th and 50th anniversary editions.  Every couple of years,  I return to Maycomb county and its sultry summers; its small town community; its characters. Oh, the characters.

Harper Lee gave us three of the greatest literary heroes- Atticus Finch, who did the right thing because he believed in justice. He wasn’t perfect, and we’re shown more of his flaws in Go Set A Watchman but what an example of doing what is right instead of what is easy, despite your own personal prejudices.

Scout Finch- first as a six  year old child whose prejudices haven’t formed yet- who sees the world not as black and white but as people, and therefore can say things that need saying.  This child stopped a lynching by asking Walter Cunningham how his entailment is going. She brought out humanity in angry men.  Then later as a grown woman, railing against a deep-rooted system of racial inequality. The heartbreaking moment when her father, her hero, is knocked off his pedestal. Who can’t relate to finding out your parents are human, too?

And Boo Radley.  Oh, Boo.  You who watched over Jem and Scout all their growing up years.  You who reached out for friendship in the only way you could. You who risked your own life to save theirs.   You mockingbird.  It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Sheriff Tate understood that as well as Atticus did, but it took Sheriff Tate to make Atticus see that about you.

Harper Lee wrote of the South whose legacy I grew up in. The cadence and language of To Kill A Mockingbird is so true. And the mannerisms.  “Don’t take a check from the Delafields without a discreet call to the bank first…”  I grew up with families knowing families for generations, and this type of relating to each other is so common.

I heard that Harper Lee never wrote another book after To Kill A Mockingbird because she said what she needed to say.  I have no way of knowing if this is true.  But I do know that her books have made a mark in my heart, in my soul, that few other books have ever come close to touching.

She lived 89 years- a long life by any standard. That doesn’t make it any easier to hear that one of my heroes is no longer on this earth. This beautiful, sunny day is a little dimmer since I’ve heard of her passing.  But may her legacy live on for years to come.

Rest in Peace, Ms. Lee.