I just fulfilled a lifelong dream to travel to Monroeville, Alabama, the home of Harper Lee and the real setting for To Kill a Mockingbird [the 1961 Pulitzer Prize winner about the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Gregory Peck immortalized the film by the same name with his role as Atticus Finch, the lawyer of the accused]. Like so many others I am sure, I was inspired by the book and wanted, from my first reading of it, to be Atticus Finch. While I have fallen woefully short of his decency and his kindness, I have succeeded in carving out a professional life as a criminal defense attorney.
Monroeville was in many ways exactly as I pictured it and in other ways dramatically different. The Monroe County Courthouse and its iconic courtroom, as seen in the movie, is still totally preserved. Just stepping into the courtroom, you can envision Harper Lee's father arguing cases before (all White) juries. The courthouse is beautiful and the square that surrounds it is still exactly as it was in the 1930s when Mockingbird was set. The only difference is that the storefronts on the square are all virtually empty. The town itself is completely isolated, being 100 miles from the nearest decent size city (Montgomery) and the drive to the town from Montgomery is entirely rural.
Two weekends a year, the play is performed at the courthouse and we were lucky enough to get tickets. The first act is performed on the courthouse grounds and the second act, the trial scenes are performed in the actual courtroom seen in the movie and where Harper Lee's father, the model for Atticus Finch, argued cases. It was a transcendent experience.
It sounds lovely. I read that Monroeville, the "literary capital of Alabama" attracts 30,000 visitors each year, which is pretty impressive for a town with fewer than 7,000 residents. I also read that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood friends, as well as next-door neighbors. You opened the conversation mentioning that this pilgrimage was your lifelong dream. You're middle-aged now. What happened now that gave you the impetus to finally realize this dream?
Isn't it amazing how one book could so influence you? Have you met other lawyers who also 'fess up to that connection?
Okay, then. It must feel great to have finally fulfilled one of your lifelong ambitions. So Jonathan, what's next on your list?
There are no "pilgrimages" left for me to take but I will continue to live out for me what has been a daily dream-come-true of being a criminal defense attorney. There is literally not a day in my professional life when I do not remind myself how lucky I am to have been able to make a nice living doing exactly what I had always dreamed of doing.
You are really fortunate, Jonathan. How many people can say that? And to think all this came from reading a book in your childhood! Ah, the power of literature to inspire. Thanks for talking with me; it's been a pleasure. And who knows, Jonathan? As an empty-nester, with all that free time on your hands, you might uncover more dreams that need doing.