On Christmas Day 1956, Nelle Harper Lee was given an extraordinary gift. A year. Two of her closest friends had saved their money in order to give her a year off work to devote herself to writing. Her friends had often heard the stories that Nelle wrote at night after getting off her job as an airline reservation clerk. They knew that she was extraordinary and had a story to tell the world. They were right.
That year Nelle wrote the manuscript that would become To Kill a Mockingbird. Drawing from her own past, Nelle, writing as Harper Lee, created a tale that showed its audience over and over again that people are more than their skin color, their family line, their bank account, or even their oddities. People are beautifully complex, each of them are struggling, and each of them have value.
At a time when racial tensions were rising and rhetoric wars were being fought, Nelle’s tale made the world stop, breathe, and see each other as human beings despite their differences. To this day Nelle’s book is still read in nearly every high school in America.
Nelle did not care much for fame though. She did not appear in person to accept the many awards that she has been given. She did not give interviews. In fact, when a friend asked her if she would like to create a form letter to refuse her many interview requests, she replied that all it should say is “hell no.”
Nelle had already said what she needed to say to the world, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” That is all. Nelle Harper Lee died last week, but she will live on in the pages of her book, beloved by so many, and she will continue to move hearts toward compassion.
Let nothing stop you.