I think for most people Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is only about racism. It is about racism, but it has an even deeper message if you look for it. It has a message that touches all of us, of every color, creed and sex. I am glad to know the book is required reading in most schools around here. My children had to read the story in school as did I when I was fourteen. I remember the my teacher explaining the title to us. She explained that to kill a mockingbird was killing something for no reason. To be honest though I had never fully realized the connecting link between Tom Robinson’s doom and the saving of Boo (Arthur) Radley could be summed up in one word. Dignity.
Tom Robinson (a black man) was doomed because he felt sorry for Mayella ( a white girl) and was pushed into saying so at the his trial, thus robbing Bob Ewell and all the white men in the area of their illusion of dignity. It was Atticus Finch’s learning that lesson that saved Boo from having to go to trial. Had Boo been forced into the public, even as a hero, it would’ve destroyed him just as certainly. He was too shy to deal with such attention. Now I understand the lesson all to well.
Every time I think about telling my life story to the world, I think about Boo. My son is severely autistic, my son doesn’t speak, my son is completely dependent on me. Social workers need to read that book and realize it’s not about racism, it’s about limits. It’s about recognizing that there need to be limits to how much you dig through a person’s private life to examine. Anyone that spends all their time searching for something to fix will surely find it. There are things that are destroyed by too much examining; privacy, freedom, security, the simple sense of relaxed contentment, and not the least of all dignity. All are certain to be shredded by the social worker that won’t stop analyzing every action and every word a parent says.
But where I live, if a parent asks for help with a special needs child, they force the parent to be analyzed over and over for months, as long as the state government is paying for help. Trust me, I have very good reasons for never asking the state government for help again. When I think back to those months and the countless visits by protective services in the years after, it is a wonder I can hear myself think anymore. All the outside voices and judgements came to invade my mind as I learned to question every thought and every action. A constant dialogue filled my head as I tried to defend every action I took from every accusation I could imagine. Trying to be ready, always, for the next onslaught.
No case was ever brought against me. I cooperated with protective services every time.
Most of them understood. My son might appear to be abused or neglected to those with no experience in autism. But for anyone with training in psychology, his body language spoke volumes of trust and security. The way he would run up to climb on my back for a piggyback ride then run off giggling. No abused child could act so happy, so full of joy and delight.
But I could never take him giggling to a court room. The very act of taking him out of his comfortable safe home environment would be a violent act to him. All the strange people, he can not stand large groups of people. So when the judgmental people come with their thoughts of intolerance forefront, he does act out . . . in reaction to them. He doesn’t need to speak to understand what their body language says.
Yes, thank you Harper Lee for writing such a beautiful, fictional book about racism that so many people can read, and thank you for slipping between the lines a timeless lesson in the irreplaceable value of human dignity.