Harper Lee will always be there

Published 8:05 pm Saturday, February 20, 2016

[Atticus] turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning. 
— “To Kill a Mockingbird”

They say Nelle Harper Lee died Friday at the age of 89. But we know that’s not true. We know she and her book will always be there for us.

She made us at least try to know each other. For many of us Southerners of a certain age, growing up in a confusing and strangely divided region, Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” soothed the rough edges, subtly teaching us that blacks and whites and the seemingly lost really aren’t that different after all.

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As we grew up, we learned that the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel published in 1960 had touched the hearts of people the world over, that they were passing it on to their children just as we were passing it on to ours.

The book is as powerful and timeless as The New Testament from which it draws its driving theme of the Good Samaritan, as well as its messages of justice, mercy and unconditional love.

And just as there is only one New Testament, there is only one “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the only book from the only author for many of us. We’re not counting that ill-advised “prequel/sequel” to Mockingbird that the people around Lee pushed out last summer.

For us, the lady from Alabama wrote one book and she got it about as right as rain. The writing is as beautiful as the lessons, and both are delivered so masterfully that all you really know is you are immersed in a world that makes you laugh and cry and think.

Many of us will never forget the first time we read “Mockingbird.”

Lee was there with us then, she is here with us now, and she will be with us forever, just as surely as Atticus will always be there for his children.

They say Nelle Harper Lee died. But we know that’s not true.

This editorial was shared with our sister paper, The Tidewater News, by the Winston-Salem Journal, where it first appeared on Feb. 20, 2016.