Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Losing my Atticus

     I was forced by my grandmother to read "To Kill A Mockingbird" when I was only six years old. It was a punishment for an attempt to flush potatoes down the toilet to test the sucking power of whatever mechanism made everything go down the toilet. It backfired, both forcing me to read the book that would become my favorite book of all time (I've read it 42 times to date) and the toilet as one of the little bitty potatoes made it through the initial sucking mechanism and met with a horrifying fate in the sewer. I know the fate was horrifying because the sewer had to be dug out...
     Within the pages of that book, I met some of my best childhood friends. At six years of age, I didn't really understand the implications of the major themes, such as race and definition of class and relationships between men and women and coming of age. But I totally understood Scout and her inability to filter herself and I understood Dill and the lack of the father figure and I understood the small-town vibe. As I grew, the book became even more important to me, but one figure always remained elusive and unrealistic: Atticus Finch.
     Atticus Finch, the gentle warrior who allowed his children to call him by his first name with the understanding that there was no loss of respect on either part, was the father that I crave. Strong, silent, with secrets to uncover and talents that were never for show but for necessity. He was the ultimate work of fiction to me for surely there could never exist someone like that man, a man of dignity with a penchant for hard work and fairness.
    Until I married my husband and his father became my father-in-law. That was when I got my Atticus. Sometimes blessings come upon us with no warning. That is, in fact, the definition of a blessing... something we don't deserve that we can't imagine that brings us a renewed hope for something we didn't even know we were missing. But the human race tends to forget that by making blessings something tangible. A new car, more money, getting out of debt - those are our blessings. But to get my very own Atticus Finch - that was something else altogether.
     He didn't say much, but he didn't have to, really. He would share a look with me and suddenly I could breathe when I felt like all of the air had been squashed out of my lungs. When I was sick and in the hospital he didn't have to say one word. He could just stand there, in the doorway and I could see his tall, lanky outline and suddenly my head didn't hurt anymore and sleep could stop swirling around me and finally settle itself. He was my Atticus and he would not allow me to be treated unjustly nor would he allow me to allow myself to be treated unjustly.
     Quiet and reserved but when he spoke, rooms would still to hear what he was saying because to hear the edgy bass of his voice would be to hear what needed to be heard by someone who knew how to say it. Fair and just, impartial and always prepared to defend the weakest one, even if the weakness was offensive to all. And I loved him for it. I loved him for so many reasons. I love him for so many reasons. But the one reason that I love him most is because he is my Atticus. I finally found him.
     And now I'm going to lose him. I'm going to lose my Atticus. And instead of being sad for me, I am sad for him, because I cannot tell him that he is my Atticus because he wouldn't understand. His wisdom doesn't come from stupid things like books and the warped kind of machinations that come from reading and manifesting such things. His wisdom comes from life. And life stands at the lectern now ready to teach us all the great lesson: that we are not immortal, that we are not written to last forever, that there are things like cancer that make us completely disposable.
     But there are some things that live outside of that mortality. There is sadness, the deepest, darkest sadness that marks a person like an anniversary. There is this infinite lump in my throat that will not go away nor allow itself to dissolve into tears.  There is the steadfast knowledge that crying won't make it go away, won't clean up the cancer, won't end this loss that just continues to loop from my head to my heart. And I wonder what it would have been like to not know this; to still have the dream of someone who would be Atticus to me. Would it be better? I cannot imagine so. Losing my Atticus is heart-wrenching because the physical representation, the strength, the voice and smile will melt away. But like the character that was penned so many decades ago, he will remain immortal and forever written upon my heart, my mind and my memory.

1 comment:

Christine Alexander said...

Beautiful. Just beautiful.