If I remember correctly, I learned to read when I was six years old. I am certain at age seven, I read my first book; To Kill A Mockingbird.
The book gave me my first insight into the hearts of evil men. It also sparked my interest in the concepts of guilt and innocence. Parts of the book would forge my path through life; particularly during difficult times. Here are two experiences I will never forget.
God communes with people in different ways. He primarily speaks to me in a very subtle way through nature.
During many years spent in the woods, I have heard the songs of the mockingbird in the distance, seen them fly to protect their nests, and witnessed their mocking of the songs of other birds. But, there have only been two times in my life I have personally encountered a mockingbird.
Fall 1998- Fall 1999 – This might have been the most challenging time of my life. For a variety of reasons, mostly self-imposed, I was beaten. I had lost the will to fight. I had lost the desire to help others. I was certain that God had forsaken me and I deserved it.
April 4, 1999 – 9:00pm – Jefferson County, GA – I was alone in my father’s cabin deep in the woods in an isolated area near Louisville, GA. After turkey hunting all day, I did what I could do to fall asleep fast. But, sleep would not come fast or at all. Despite my best efforts to ensure sleep, a bird landed on a branch next to my window in the darkness and started singing. Frustrated, I just wanted the thing to go away. But, he stayed. And he sang. Because of this irritating bird, I could not sleep all night.
April 5, 1999 – 5:30am – Still awake because of the tormenting from the bird, I suddenly noticed his voice change. The Whippoorwills were beginning to sing. They are my natural alarm clock during turkey season. Well, this bird started mimicking the sounds of the whippoorwill.
Because I was so tired, I finally fell asleep around the time I was supposed to get up and begin the hunt. The hunt would not take place that day.
9:30am – When I woke up, there was silence. I looked to my left through the window and surprisingly, the bird was still on the branch. As I moved to look at him, he was looking at me in the eyes. It was a mockingbird.
Mockingbirds will often sing all day and often into the night. Males can memorize up to 200 songs over their lifetime.
He remained on the branch for about two minutes and flew away.
While I did not know the meaning of the experience with the mockingbird, something changed inside of me that I would not understand until much later.
It would take months for God to help me overcome my struggle. But, two important things happened that year; (1) I continued through my first year of law school and (2) made the decision to become a criminal defense attorney.
March 30, 2009 – 10:00am – Meriwether County, GA. Almost ten years to the day, my challenges were different and my personal relationship with God was strong. Yet, I was struggling with a decision that would impact the rest of my life.
That morning, as I walked and listened for the gobbling of wild turkeys, I stopped to rest on a stump. Suddenly, a mockingbird landed in some bushes 50 feet away. He begins to sing. I sat there for over an hour listening to him. This time he did not mimic the other birds in the woods. He had his own song. Strangely, he rarely took his eyes off of me.
When he flew away, I felt lead to make that difficult and risky decision. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions of my life.
I have been told that when the Mockingbird comes into our lives it can be an innocent message that we need to rethink how we work, interact and communicate with others. Interestingly, these ideas were directly related to the issues I was struggling with in 1999 and 2009.
Back to the book and the most well-known idea from it, “It is a sin to kill a mockingbird.” While there are many interpretations of this, my experience has suggested that to kill a bird that cannot be eaten (like a dove or quail), does not bother humans, and simply mimics the songs of other birds is similar to destroying innocence. Destroying the innocence of a child, fellow human, or even a mockingbird is a sin.
In the book, Tom Robinson, a kind hearted black man is accused of raping a white girl. There is no credible evidence and his lawyer, Atticus Finch, actually proves that Tom did not commit the rape. Yet, Tom is convicted by an all-white jury and later murdered by hateful and evil men.
Arthur “Boo” Radley, who has significant mental health disease, is shunned, accused of petty crimes, yet saves a young boy from a vicious attack. Only then do the people realize that Boo is no monster, but a kind and innocent man.
Tom and Boo are the mockingbirds in the book because their innocence.
Perhaps at the innocent age of seven, God chose to speak to me at critical times through the Mockingbird.