I have known Harper Lee for a long time.
Well, truth be told, I didn’t really know her; I got to photograph her twice. It is no secret that Harper Lee despised attention including writers and photographers, but this writing is not about meeting or photographing the literary giant. It is not about what her groundbreaking novel evoked in us including insight into racism and equality and dignity and the ultimate human condition.
Nor it is about her reclusive life in Monroeville, a town known the world over. On many occasions journalists from all corners of this planet have descended on the sleepy Alabama city to catch a glimpse of her life.
This writing is about the one line in To Kill a Mockingbird that made me stop reading, put the book down, close my eyes, and increase my awareness of the Oxygen molecules entering my body:
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
Something else caused me to do the same. I almost lost my life in 1992 due to a ruptured aneurysm in the brain. I miraculously survived what kills over 90 percent of people. After this ordeal, every breath became a gift.
Why do things become precious only after we confront the thought of losing them?
What about our homes? Our cars? Our jobs? Our spouses? Our cats and dogs and goldfish? My 26 year-old-son, Zade, lost his goldfish (Lovey), when he was seven. You would have thought the Pope had died. And yes, there was a funeral and a burial, along with trips all over town for a goldfish which looked the same. (As if they were different looking. To Zade, they were.)
What if we were afraid of losing our lives?
Would we live a little fuller? Would we love a little deeper? And would we inhale a little more aware of those tiny atoms we can’t even explain?
Would we kiss our spouses a little longer, and go to sleep with our hand on their heart?
Would we look at our kids walking off to school and thank the heavens they are in our lives?
Would we walk into our jobs with all of its stresses, and smile at our coworkers like it’s our first day?
Would we take a bite of that sandwich as if grilled cheese hasn’t been invented yet?
Would we live every day like it’s our last?
Would we squeeze the nectar out of every minute of every day, the sweet nectar making you drunk on life’s sensational beauty, seductive allure, and overwhelming magic?
Thank you, Harper Lee, for making us realize life is worth living.