Wednesday, October 5, 2011

i am atticus finch

A life free from pain is not a life. What you choose to do with that pain, to possibly turn it into something positive, is not something everyone takes advantage of.

I have heard that in US Army circles there is a saying, pain is fear leaving your body. If that is the case, I must have had a lot of fear inside of me. I grew up as the child in my grade with the weight problem. I was asked to leave the first university I attended. I gave up on my dream of a career in radio when the need to earn a living grew too great. I spent a summer without my toddler son when his mother and I separated. A year later I began my journey of a single parent when she left us both. Of all the pain I have felt in my life thus far, that last one hurt the most. Accordingly, it also brought the most growth I ever experienced in my life.

No one tells you as a newly wed that whatever plans the two of you have for the future and for each other, you should be ready to do that on your own. I wish someone had sat me down and said, Ed, I know you might want a child or two out of this marriage but just remember, if you get them, you might end up doing this parent thing solo. Then again, if my wish had come true and I had been warned, I might not have gone through with it and I would have lost out on the beauty, joy, triumph, and frustration my son brought me as he carved a new maturity into the tree of my life.

In The Matrix, Neo had to chose the red pill or the blue pill. Red opened his eyes and blue would have kept him where he was. Lucky for us, he chose the red pill and we got to see him shoot the snot out of an alternate reality with slow motion bullets ripping the air which surrounded him. If given the choice, I probably would have taken the blue pill. My creator had a different path for me and he placed the red pill on my tongue, thrusting me into the reality where tiny bits of flu induced vomit and teenage rebellion rip the air which surrounds me.

This is where literature became my Morpheus. The mind numbing task of leaving the selfishness of my 20's behind was too great for me to handle on my own. I had a child to raise who had his mother split one month before his fourth birthday. I had a house to take care of and getting to preschool on time so I could be at work on time and getting home to make dinner and pack a lunch and do laundry and get into bed without crying too much so I could do it all again the next day. I needed a role model and that was when I reintroduced myself to Atticus Finch.

Most of us had to read To Kill a Mockingbird at some time or another in our educational experience. I presume that our instructors had us read it as an exposure to racial stereotypes and bigotry and how no matter the outcome, it is the noble course to confront such ugliness. The simple writing style and engaging story have always stuck with me over the years but it was not until I had a few minutes to spare after putting my four year old son to bed that I really connected with the story.

I clicked on the TV and searched through the channels. I paused on Turner Classic Movies when I saw To Kill A Mockingbird was on. And I stayed up the next hour and a half to watch. There he was. Atticus Finch, my Morpheus.  He was a man who unwittingly became a single father. He was educated and a leader within the community. He understood human nature and was respectful of his children while remaining a person of authority to them. And as if that was not enough, he could kill rabid dogs better than the sheriff. Granted my life had no Calpurnia to take care of the house and such, but that was okay. I could be the Atticus who knew how to make dinner.

Last night my son, now 13, asked if he should expect fewer presents at Christmas this year because of how bad the economy is. Before I answered, the first thing I thought of was Atticus answering Scout when she asked if they were poor. Hopefully I was able to channel Harper Lee's characterization when I said to him, "Well, the economy is bad for everyone, son. No one has a great deal of extra money to spend these days. However, we need to focus on what Christmas means first and then open whatever gifts we might find under the tree."

I am Atticus Finch.