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Kathy Bradley - A bird perched offers a lesson
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    I have a new friend. A mockingbird has taken to arriving at Sandhill early every morning to perch on the empty shepherd's crook standing at the edge of the deck. Balanced carefully on the cold curve of iron, beak tilted into the crisp morning air, he looks for all the world like a well-fed vassal surveying his fiefdom. Or better, with his pale gray feathers that end in a long square tail, like a British bridegroom in cutaway and ascot.
    He is an attractive bird, but he seems to have frightened away all wrens, the sparrows, the cardinals and the jays that normally flit and flutter from one bare branch to another, cheeping and chirping and singing the sun up.
    Leaning against the sill, staring at the proud bird in his stillness and solitude, it is inevitable that I remember Harper Lee's Scout Finch and her lawyer daddy whose plain goodness was one of the things that led me to my profession. When Atticus gives Scout an air rifle it is with the admonition that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Scout takes her confusion about her father's words to an older neighbor who explains: "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."
    Scout Finch lives in a world stained with hypocrisy and cruelty and selfishness. But she doesn't know that. Not yet. Not until she sits in a courtroom balcony and watches her father confront, unsuccessfully it turns out, those marauders.
    Wandering off into the woods of thought, I pick up the well-worn trail that leads me to my own courtroom balcony, the place where I first found myself wrestling with the intrusion of pain and disillusionment into a previously halcyon world. Things — I learned, we all learn eventually — are not as they should be.
    Volcanos and wars erupt. Poverty and rumors spread. Children and dreams die. The best that even the wisest among us can offer is platitude, not explanation. Is it any wonder that a malignant heart so rarely raises us to righteous indignation anymore?
    It is still a sin to kill a mockingbird, to harm the harmless, but unless it is our mockingbird in our backyard most of us are too jaded and resigned to care.
    But back in the balcony in the Maycomb, Alabama, courthouse, as a defeated Atticus slowly gathers his things and turns to leave the courtroom, the Rev. Sykes touches Scout's shoulder and whispers, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'."
    In that moment, Scout begins to see that the world in which she lives, the one stained with hypocrisy and cruelty and selfishness, is also colored with generosity and loyalty and love. She begins to understand that even as she must shield herself against evil, she must open herself to good.
    I've noticed that my mockingbird doesn't sing. He doesn't chirp and cheep. He doesn't imitate the songs of his cousins, loudly and repetitively. Not once has he parted his beak, puffed up his throat, expelled his breath and offered a song.
    If I measured his worth on Miss Maudie's scale, I guess I'd be justified in at least shooing, if not shooting, him.
    I watch him a while longer, notice the way his wings unfold like a lady's fan when he loops over to the lowest limb of the chinaberry tree, how the white tips reflect the sunlight like snow, and it occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, the greater sin, the transgression worse than killing a mockingbird, might be trying to make him something he isn't, not loving him for what he is.
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