“Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)
I first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was around 13 years old. Beyond the impact of the story, the book was a revelation about the power of narrative. It not only presented a story that raised questions about ethical and social issues, it also showed me that stories can challenge the way you see the world and yourself. That words, and stories, are powerful.
At the time, I photocopied the final chapter of the book (6 pages) and kept them in my folder. I read and re-read Scout’s summary of how the events in their town would have appeared to Boo Radley as he looked out his window. It was a lesson in perspective and understanding and empathy that has stayed with me through the years.
My life is chaotic at the moment. There are some major changes underway and I’m feeling very fragile. The changes are ultimately positive, but I seem to be working through all the emotions each day, sometimes simultaneously. It’s been exhausting. It’s also been a reminder about the importance of considering perspective and more than once I’ve recalled Scout’s observations from the Radley porch.
I’ve received a lot of support from friends and colleagues over the past month or so. I’ve felt loved and encouraged and cared for in a way I really didn’t expect when I set the wheels in motion for this change. Without seeking details or asking me to justify myself, they have simply let me know that I am valued and offered encouragement. I’ve felt humbled and overwhelmed at times and I’ve felt incredibly blessed to be part of a community filled with so much love and compassion.
Of course, not everyone has agreed with my decisions. There has been judgement and anger and questions asking me to justify the decisions I’ve made and the emotions I’m experiencing. It has been tempting to feel hurt and betrayed by these reactions. To wonder why these people don’t trust that I wouldn’t make such a major decision without just cause and without considering the implications for myself, my children and others I care about.
Through it all, I keep thinking of Scout standing on the porch reflecting on the events in her community as Boo would have seen them. I try to step outside my situation and look at it as someone else would – someone who has only seen what has happened on the surface. Someone who has only known the facade I created for my life; who only saw the smiles and laughter and confidence. Someone whose own personal history means they view my actions and decisions through the filter of their own experiences and emotions.
My heart is breaking at the moment – for things past, for things lost, for hurt caused. While I know that I’ve made decisions that will result in a more hopeful and hope-filled future, I also acknowledge that my actions impact a wide circle of people and they are entitled to feel hurt, angry, confused and betrayed. My heart is breaking for them too, as I try to stand in their shoes and view my actions from their perspective.
Why am I sharing this? I’m not quite sure.
Partly because after months and months and months of feeling barren and dry, the words suddenly want to get out. There is a compulsion to write that I haven’t experienced for some time.
But mostly because my current situation has reminded me of the lesson Harper Lee taught me all those years ago about the importance of perspective, both when we look at our own life and when we consider (and judge) the lives of others. Be gentle with yourself and with others. Stand in someone else’s shoes and walk around in them before you presume to understand them.
Our lives are complex and our emotions are fragile. Be the kind of person who gives others room to be broken and encourages them to find the strength to heal. Always remember that the world looks different when viewed from someone else’s perspective.