Channeling Atticus Finch

Nearly 13 years ago, I was very pregnant. And as my 9th grade English class watched a scene from the film To Kill A Mockingbird, I got all weepy. It was a scene in which Atticus, the perfect father, sits on his front porch swing, instructing his daughter, Scout, about something or other, and it occurred to me in that moment – in a very real way – that soon I would be a parent, instructing my own child about life, its soft places and its hard edges.

I started to sob.

How would I ever do it?

Atticus had all the answers.

He had the right words.

Even after the movie ended and somebody had turned the lights on, I kept sniffling while conspicuously chomping on potato chips.

Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but I had a soft spot for one of my freshmen boys and, as my shoulders heaved and I wept hysterically, he pondered aloud:

“I wonder what she needs more: tissues or a salt lick?”

I choked on my snot.

Everyone laughed.

Class ended, and I went to the bathroom to pee pull myself together.

As a parent, I’ve always channeled Atticus. A defender of justice, he fought for it even if he knew he would be beaten in the end.

Atticus argued for big principles like equality and duty, but he never lost sight of the fact that, in the end, it’s human beings and their choices that make equality stand or fall.

And he tried to instill the values in which he believed in his children.

These days, I watch my son and his friends walk to school, and I swear they come home taller each afternoon.

I have done the best I can do with Tech, who just six months ago asked me to stop calling him Monkey.

Lord, give me strength because his questions are becoming harder.

And I am no Atticus Finch.

As I look outside my window this morning, I’d like everything to stay. The trees are undulating softly, and the light reflecting off the leaves is making me squint. Right now, everything is green with possibility. The sun fills me with hope and reminds me of the goodness to come.

Is there a particular scene from a movie that stays with you? That you associate with a time in your life? That has helped you to parent?

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35 thoughts on “Channeling Atticus Finch

  1. This is stupid but at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” where ZuZu says “Teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets it’s wings” and George Bailey smiles and says “That’s right ZuZu, That’s right”. That always made me feel like whatever happens, it’s going to be all right, and the innocent faith of our children shows me that if they can do it, I can do it.

  2. That was just a beautiful way to start my day. Thank you so much. Such lovely words. Whenever I get frustrated today, I’m going to think of those undulating trees and the goodness to come.

    1. We don’t have many “Chamber of Commerce Days” in these parts. Our weather is unreliable. But wow. It is remarkable outside today. I’m going out to feel the sun on my face for a little while. Because yesterday? It hailed for 20 minutes and the temperature dropped over 20 degrees!

  3. In “Defending Your Life,” Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks die and then review their life in movie screening rooms. They get to be reincarnated to a better life if they’ve faced their fears. Whenever I am confronted by something I know is good for me, but scary, I think about these scenes. I think my evolution depends in part on pushing past my fears, on examining my anxiety and moving on.

    1. Can I tell you, I have never seen or heard of this movie. Don’t judge me! But clearly, it needs to go on my need to see list if it has made such an enormous impact on you. How have we never discussed this? Whaaaat?

  4. Oh, to be able to hold the moment; hold it close and never let it slip away. But it does, they do, just like our children. Just as life is supposed to.

    I think I’d want to adopt your freshman favorite – smart kid!

    1. I’m about to contact him to see if he remembers this. I recall it if it were yesterday. This was a kid who watched LORD OF THE FLIES and in his creative movie project went to the public market and bought a pig’s head and put it on a stick. Do you love him more even now? He was amazing. And he didn’t even know it.

  5. I don’t know if there’s one scene I can think of at this moment, but I do know when I’m watching something and it really hits home, I lose it. Watching that scene at a different point in time might not have any effect on me, but in that moment, it strikes a chord.

    Beautiful post 🙂

    1. I suppose that is true for me, but there are definite movies for me where I just know I’m going to lose it. Like in Shawshank Redemption right before…well, I won’t say in case you have never seen my most favorite movie of all time. But let’s just say it involves an elderly man newly released from prison. And a rope and a chair. Omigosh, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. What do we do to people?

  6. Oh, that made me teary. 🙂
    Beautiful memory. And sigh…parenting is hard, and we don’t have script writers writing us the perfect things to say all the time. (sad, but true) We just keep doing our best, becuase it’s all we can do.
    And you, my friend, are doing pretty freakin’ great.

  7. Well said Renee. Life is good. Enjoy every moment. It goes by so quickly. Just think in two weeks a very happy occassion will be happening.

  8. I never had any appreciation for that movie. Guess I’m not mature enough or something. But I always love your writing, Renee. Too bad kids don’t come with instructions like other gifts do.

    Good luck with the bar mitzvah.

    1. David. It’s time to try again. Or tell me you loved the book. Because TKAM is up there among my top two favorite books, the other being William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I think I mention both every single day of my life.

  9. This is truly lovely, Renee! Being a parent is hard, and they do grow a foot each day. When my older six kids were little people told me that time would go too fast, but I didn’t believe them. Now those six kids are all adults. I am far more relaxed about the little thing with my 7 year old, but he’s brought along the need for a whole different set of skills. My oldest daughter gets married in three weeks, and Aidan finishes first grade in one. Time does fly. We do our best to savour it and enjoy those moments when the sun comes out!

    1. Thanks Annie! I can’t believe that you are on #7! You are the most amazing momma in the whole world. Truly. I hope you are able to find something wonderful in your son today despite the horrible sadness you have just experienced. Thinking of you and your powerful piece today.

  10. I love this post! And all be darned, I hope you still keep in touch with that student.

    At the right place and time, movie and TV scenes can REALLY get me. The last movie that had me BAWLING was “Something Borrowed,” a romantic comedy about a girl (Ginnifer Goodwin) who just turned 30 and found out the guy she was in love with for many years (who was engaged to her best friend) was in love with her, too. It’s a cheesy movie, but I watched it right before I turned 30, and so many things about it reminded me of my own life (down to an ongoing chipmunk reference! Ha!). I think it’s an age where you’re far enough into adulthood to totally freak out about whether you’ve made the right choices (because you’re already committed to so many things), but you also feel like you might have JUST enough time to totally change your mind.

    1. Cheesy movies are usually the ones that do me in. I cry during Earth Girls are Easy, for Pete’s sake. And I LOVE Something Borrowed. *weep* So many good movies.

      Oh, and I cried during the season finale of Glee. For real.

  11. Oh my. Favorite movie, favorite book. Or at least top 10 on both counts. My daughter is named after Harper Lee.

    There are so many movies that revive my spirit. The end of “Lost in Translation,” the pie scene in “Heartburn”…”Stranger Than Fiction” and “Wonderboys” are what I watch when I feel I need writing inspiration.

    Oddly enough, there are also TV shows that are just as powerful to me. There are several episodes of “Futurama” and “The Simpsons” that bring tears to my eyes. (When Lisa Simpson thinks she is “getting dumber” because of a genetic condition and her mom shows her that all the Simpson women are intelligent and successful–I’m tearing up thinking about it.)

    1. You named your daughter after Harper Lee. I remember that! Sooooo cool! Like you, certain episodes of she’s might get me going. Like, I cried during the season finale of Glee. I know. Crazy, right? But I remembered that moment right after graduation. Wanting to believe I’d be with my friends forever but knowing everything was about to change. *weep*

  12. Erin Brockovich: “They’re called boobs, Ed.” — obviously not for inspiring parenting :). But it inspires me to be bold and embrace my womanly body! And to go forth and work hard in the world and don’t take no for an answer!

    1. Oooh! Amy! I like that so much! I love The Blind Side for the same reasons. I love how Sandra Bullock’s character politely refuses to take no for an answer. I like Erin Brockovich because she reminds us that curvy chicks in tight skirts can be wicked smart and wicked sexy. 😉

  13. This is so very beautiful my friend. May we all channel a bit of Atticus from time to time, especially when our beloved children ask us tough questions. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, pardner. Brief. Sorry. Much love.

  14. the moment in this movie that makes me cry like a baby is when scout realizes that robert duvall is boo radley, puts together what he did, and then walks over and silently holds his hand. that is magic, and i fall apart every time.

    1. Oh yeah. I cry there, too. There are a bunch of scenes where I just lose it. Especially when Scout casually says, “Oh, hey Boo.” Like she’s known him her whole life. And she isn’t even afraid or anything. *weep* We should watch this movie together. Do you like Puffs Ultra?

  15. Yep. Or rather from a TV show. It’s in an episode of the English version of Sherlock, when Irene Adler walks into the room where Sherlock Holmes is sitting, and well, if you goto the link below, you’ll see her in her combat outfit.

    Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I didn’t worry about stuff like that. Part of it I think is that I can’t see how worrying is going to make any difference.


  16. Atticus, gave me a moral compass, (I lived in a home where morality was a fluid concept) in particular the scene where he tells the mob to leave still makes me hold my breath. ‘What would Atticus do?’ is a hypothetical I have been known to use in difficult circumstances. Also that to walk alone is not as scary as it seems when you have good in your heart.

    Magwitch (Great Expectations) where he explains to Pip that he has been his benefactor, this is a plea for redemption at it’s most raw = snorting sobs every time. Magwitch reminds me that even after doing wrong there is always the possibility to become a better person.

    I think these two books have a great deal to do with my choice to become an English teacher.


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