My good friend was driving through Nashville, TN last week and saw signs posted all around her neighborhood…”Atticus Finch is missing.” (Someone had apparently lost track of a well-named cat).
I think most people who grow to appreciate Lee’s novel are fascinated with the qualities of Atticus and what he has to teach us about compassion and courage.
There is a reason Atticus is difficult to find these days. I think being like Atticus is pretty tough. That’s right, I said tough. His actions reflect strength, sturdiness, and a ruggedness that scoffs at the shallow definitions of 21st century masculinity. His admirable qualities sometimes seem lost on modern culture.
We are misled to believe that qualities like compassion are actually signs of weakness. We glorify the winners. In my youth, I could never have recognized the strength in Atticus walking away from a hostile man who threatened him and spit in his face. What kind of man does that? The answer, of course, is a man much tougher than anyone I know; a man who had the resolve and compassion to understand that he might be saving Bob Ewell’s children another beating at home by simply taking his threats. Ask yourself honestly: if you observed this scene on the steps of your local post office…what would you think of Atticus?
Would you hire Atticus as a lawyer? A man who never won a criminal case? Or would you hire the loud-mouthed, wealthy, successful lawyer with a high profile and his own talk radio show? Atticus wasn’t concerned about being a winner…he took on the case he was certain to lose because in his words, “I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t defend that man.” It wasn’t easy, but it was right.
In our “look at me” culture, our definitions of success linger around the men who openly work to have the last and loudest word. I wonder if we would even notice Atticus Finch. Atticus was a truth-teller whose opinion was always tempered with the understanding of how important it was to stay connected to his own community. He tells his daughter Scout, “no matter how bad things get, always remember that these people are our neighbors.” Atticus understood that losing the connection to his neighbors would mean losing influence over their lives.
Being Atticus means displaying an inner resolve and strength grounded in something greater than ourselves. It means practicing compassion and self-sacrifice. Being Atticus is never the easy way out. I hope those people in Nashville find Atticus the missing cat. I hope we can find more men like Atticus Finch in our communities. Men that practice genuine strength.
Maybe my friend was right when she said, “Ain’t that the truth, Atticus Finch IS missing.”