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 photographing the literary giant.
It is also 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 chronicle her life. (Sleepy Alabama is responsible for introducing the term, “Meat and Three,” the world. The first time I heard it, I just told the waitress, “It will just be me”)
This writing is about that one line in To Kill a Mocking Bird 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 aneurism in the brain. I miraculasly survived what kills over 90 percent of people. Now every breath is 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 gold fish? My 24 year-old-son, Zade, lost his gold fish (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 gold fish that 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 with a little more awareness 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 like 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 that makes you drunk on life’s sensational beauty, seductive allure, and overwhelming magic?
Thank you Harper Lee for making us realize that life is worth living.