Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How to Kill a Mockingbird

It's been an MLK Birthday/Obama Inaugural weekend at Rebel Girl's abode. It started early when, inspired by her pals in D.C., she wrote this post: Get Your Ball Gown On.

On Friday, sans ball gown and ball, she wore her official Obama campaign t-shirt out in the world. Orange County for Obama, it read. Most seemed happy to see it. The shoe salesman from Sri Lanka shared that he had supported Obama and joked about how, before the election, he imagined he could send his shoe-stretching devices for the torturers to use in Gitmo – now I won't have to, he said. Ha ha. It wasn't the best joke but Reb understood the spirit in which it was given. The saleslady at the Salvation Army offered that she was praying for the new president and wished him and his family well. At the farmers' market, the man who sold rum-soaked Italian cakes offered her a slice, claiming it was part of Obama stimulus plan.

Then there was the middle-aged man with thinning blonde hair who approached Reb at the market. He stopped and didn't smile. He pointed his finger at her chest and said: "Your boy makes me worry."

Reb smiled. "Don't be," she replied and walked on. She bought organic Fuji apples, avocados, two fillets of John Dory, beets, arugula and early asparagus, 3 for $5.00.

She kept thinking of that fellow all that day, how the sun seemed to thin when he spoke, his tone of voice, his finger, the way his "Your boy" made her feel.

# # #

Perhaps ten years ago, Rebel Girl had a student in her evening creative writing class. Nice young man. But one day he wasn't there and the next week she saw him at the coffee cart and did what she does – made him come to her office to pick up the work he missed. She's like that. It was early in the semester. She was still getting to know her students. They were still getting to know her.

The student followed her to her office and while she rifled through the papers on her desk, he looked around her office. His eyes settled on the framed portrait of Dr. King on her bookcase. It's that famous one of him in his office, with a portrait of Gandhi on the wall behind him.

"My grandfather worked with Dr. King," he said. Reb looked up. "So did a lot of fine people," she replied. "Dr. King couldn't do it alone."

"You might have heard of him," he went on.

"Maybe," she said. "I've studied that period. I've taught it. Try me."

"Medgar Evers," he replied.

Reb swallowed. "I certainly have," she said.

She wondered how the grandson of one of the Civil Rights Movement's most famous martyrs ended up in her class – but she figured that that was community college – the world comes to your classroom, history shuffles its feet on your office floor. She wanted to ask him many things, but she resisted the impulse. It was, he suggested once, a challenge to be the grandson of such a revered figure. A lot to live up to.

# # #

The movie of the weekend has been "To Kill a Mockingbird," which is just about right for the little guy and still works its powers on his parents.

The little guy, nearly seven years old, kept calling it "How to Kill a Mockingbird." He liked Boo Radley best, of course, and feisty Scout and how the kids, Jem, Dill and Scout, got to run wild in the summertime. Henry Cunningham has his own gun and just like Jem, the little guy was impressed and jealous.

His father admired the parenting skills of Atticus.

His mother, of course, went for that other heart of the story, the tragic Tom Robinson, the grown man referred to as, of course, a "boy." The simple, chilling slap of the word.

By the end, they found the book on the shelf and were looking up lines. It seemed the right thing, maybe not the best thing but good enough, with Dr. King's speeches on the radio and the Obama family ready to move into the White House. Here's one:

"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience. "

~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 11, spoken by the character Atticus

# # #

Rebel Girl is up early this morning. Can't sleep. That's okay. She'll call her father in a little while. He wakes up early too. Her octogenarian father, WWII vet and lifelong firefighter, didn't vote for Obama in the primaries because, as he told his daughter, he knew a sad thing or two about America. Her father would recognize the type of fellow who approached her in the farmers market with his "your boy." He'd recognize the prejudice percolating through Harper Lee's small town of Maycomb. If Rebel Girl ventures to share her frustration and disappointment about what won't be happening at the college where she works, he'll say, What did you expect?

That's the America he grew up in. Reb's father knows how people killed mockingbirds without a second thought. Like Atticus, he was trying to protect his daughter, teach her too. After all, even Atticus Finch believed that Tom Robinson might prevail on appeal. Tom thought different, ran and was shot dead. So Rebel Girl's father didn't waste his vote on what couldn't be in March. His daughter did. They argued, genially.

November was different. Rebel Girl's Father voted for what he thought was impossible. The impossible prevailed. And today, well. Here we go.

9 comments:

  1. It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

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  2. Teach, Reb, teach!

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  3. RG, I thought you were a vegetarian. Maybe you are a pescetarian? In any case, happy inauguration day!

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  4. Reading as Obama speaks. Thank you Reb.

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  5. Thanks for another thoughtful, relevant post. A friend has cautioned to be prepared for disappointment with President Obama, but for today it's time to revel in the sight of Bush flying away out of sight and Cheney, fittingly hunched over in a wheelchair with that snarl glued on his face - to a place where they can both do much less harm. Yay! It's hard not to be smiling big today, to feel humble and deep appreciation for all the lives, all the sacrifices that have gotten us here today.

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  6. Now, imagine a college where the college president welcomes people to witness the swearing-in of the first African-American president. The college president reminds the audience of the mission of the community college and shares with them how at ours, in Orange County, California, the grandson of one of America's greatest Civil Rights workers, one who marched with Dr. King and was martyred, once studied. Imagine that, he says. And here we are, all together today.

    Imagine that moment. What it could have been.

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  7. Rebel Girl you rock. You're right, we Americans are balancing our hope with our, well, not cynicism, but our awareness of the limitations of America's history. Obama says it will be different if we believe it can be. I'm willing to give it a try. We have nothing to lose but our negativity. Your rebel friend coco

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  8. 8:28, keep dreaming.

    The leadership at this college is either too small-minded (We can't have, uh a political event at the college, after all we're a college! What a precedent it would set!) or too scared (What would Tom Fuentes say? Raghu? Better be safe!).

    Wouldn't you have loved to heve been a fly on the wall when Glenn called in his Executive Team to discuss whether or not to host a public viewing of the inaugural? Lots of throat clearing and eye aversion. Discomfort. Everyone SO eager to make it go away.

    All most of them care about is self-preservation.

    Which is why Glenn can sit next to Raghu and watch him lie to and lie about faculty to their faces and NEVER say one word of disagreement. NEVER.

    He's not a leader; he's an employee. With a BIG paycheck.

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