Was Harper Lee right?

We find inspiration in all kinds of places. Lately, mine has been in my bed between 2:30 and 4 in the morning when a mockingbird somewhere outside my window has been singing his little heart out.

Now the darkness of the night has been a very sacred time for me. In times of upheaval I have spent the darkness awake alternating between cursing that darkness and being blessed by it. A dear friend gave me a book one time which contained a prayer thanking God for keeping me awake. The prayer suggested that in the quiet dark is the only time I am not too busy to listen to the Divine whisper.

I contemplate this little winged creature who with so much talent can mimic the calls of so many of his colleagues. I read that mockingbirds who sing at night are males looking for a mate. I wonder: Does he make a conscious decision about which bird call he will make? Is he sleepy in the morning and therefore misses the worm? Are his hopes in singing in all bird languages that any bird female will do? Do I wish he could find one, any one, and shut up already?

Long, long ago my mother moved her bedroom from one side of the house to the other. Her reason was that there was a mockingbird which kept her awake at night. Lo, these twenty years later, I still hear that bird at night when I visit. Or, let me say, I hear a bird. There is no way that the mockingbird on that side of the house can be the same from twenty years ago. Can it? How long IS their lifespan anyway?

And then there's this movie, Failure to Launch. As a movie it was so-so. But there's this subplot of a woman named Kit who can't get any sleep because this mockingbird sings at night outside her window. In one scene Kit is in a store wanting to buy a gun to kill the bird. The clerk is trying to talk her out of it by mentioning "To Kill a Mockingbird." I surfed the net trying to find quotes of that scene and found some people thought it was hilarious, others thought it was completely lame. I thought it was the best of the movie because I (as I suspect others who loved the subplot) have suffered through the happy calls of the mockingbird between two and four in the morning.

And of course, there is Harper Lee. When I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" a lilting southern voice caresses my brain. The accent is like molasses-the most gorgeous thing I've put my eyes to. The talent of Lee blows my mind. Is it because I am southern and cut my teeth on the culture she describes? Perhaps. I admire her so much that I named one of my characters after her in my second published book. (The character's sister, by the way, is named Margaret. Can you guess what southern writer that may be?) Read on to know what Harper Lee says about mockingbirds. It's found in chapter 10 by the way.

Atticus said to Jem one day, "I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father's right, " she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

Yes, there is something to that. I am sure many a tenth grader has written on mockingbird symbolism for their English lit class. For my purposes at this point in my life I consider the voice of God in the little guy on the dogwood branch in my yard. Perhaps the days are too noisy and busy for any conversation.

Night time, declares that clever Bird, is our time.

I will not move away from it. I will not kill it. I will take Harper's words to heart and continue the conversation again at 2:30 tomorrow morning.