In praise of an extraordinary ordinary life

I’ve finished my holiday reading of Marja Mills’ The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee. Nostalgia filled me as I leafed through the pages. I remember a young me glued to what is perhaps the 20th century’s most controversial courtroom drama: small town white lawyer Atticus Finch in defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman. I learned much later that a big screen version had been made out of the book and that Gregory Peck played A.Finch. I haven’t gotten around to watching it though. It’s still in my bucket list of movies to see.

To Kill A Mockingbird differs from the high stakes lawyer novels of more recent times in that it’s an everyday story of small town folks and within that the human being’s capacity for the higher good. Events had called this in Atticus Finch and he stepped up.

Nelle Harper Lee has not written another book after the unexpected success of To Kill A Mockingbird, and some time after much public accolade, she chose a more private life, far from the madding crowd, in her hometown Monroeville, Alabama, deep in America’s countryside where the Finch story was first imagined.

In short, the ordinary life. But with her and her lawyer sister Alice’s sense of adventure and gusto for life, they made the ordinary extraordinary. (Incidentally, Harper Lee’s story at that stage of her life is good reading for the elderly. She showed that at 80 (her sister Alice, 90+ and very much still active in law!), life is still beginning.)

by the lake feeding geese via flickr

Of all the ordinary activities mentioned, their daily feeding of the ducks and geese at Whitley Lake “a few minutes from Alice’s law office” stuck with me. At 5 PM everyday, Nelle goes to pick up Alice at her law firm and together, they drive up to the Lake. They knew each and every duck and goose. In turn, the ducks and geese knew them even by just the approach of Nelle’s car.

I remember a similar routine with my youngest daughter. Right after I picked her up at school, we used to walk to the nearby koi pond and stayed there awhile. As we fed and observed the fishes, we talked. We laughed. We learned companionable silence. I wrote in a recent post that we grow to love those who we make memories with. That’s what routine does. We grow to appreciate and gradually elevate everyday life when we consistently create positive experiences of it.

That I think is the overall message that Marja Mills is trying to convey from when she found herself next-door to the Lee sisters.


In the new year, I will try to remember that. Happy 2017 everyone! 


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