I remember what you wrote but I came to find the book anyway, to read the inscription again.
I hold it in my hands and think about you for a long, long time.
You were the baby who was always smiling, the cheeriest toddler, until I had to launder your blanket. Then you leaned your head against the washer and cried.
You were the little boy in preschool who sat beside classmates on the playground when others overlooked them, excluded them. From the start you noticed the outcast, offered comfort, pulled for the underdog.
The middle-schooler who won an essay contest for writing about the person you most admire, Pa-Pa. You listened to his stories of service in World War II over and over.
The winner of the Principal’s Leadership Award at the end of your senior year.
The college student who started teaching the men’s Sunday School class at church.
The young man who returned to high school, where your Leadership Award still hangs in the front office, to teach Social Studies. Remember how, when you were setting up your classroom, you cleaned out a cabinet and found your old history exams in that stack of papers?
The teacher who taught your students to dance the Charleston—and who taught your own brother in AP U.S. History (your Dad and I weren’t kidding when we said, “Don’t even THINK about calling us in for parent-teacher conferences”).
The soccer coach who built the program and took the team to the State playoffs for the first and only time.
An inspiration to so many kids. Their parents still tell your father and me.
—I remember it all.
Teachers don’t make a lot of money; you took an extra job at night.
I remember the call. You’d been taken to the hospital. You’d been assaulted. Emergency surgery, jaw wired shut, liquid diet for six weeks. Having to carry wire cutters if you should vomit, or you’d suffocate.
How you chose to visit that young man in prison, forgave him, became his friend.
How you adopted a rescue dog, reached a crossroads in your life, came back home, quit teaching, enrolled in seminary.
Almost immediately followed by your meeting the loveliest young woman and her little girl.
I think about all these things as setting sunlight spills through the blinds onto this book in my hands, illuminating the words you wrote to me that Christmas, years ago:
It is the first book I read that made me want to change the world.
You may not think so, but you’ve been changing the world since the day you first entered it, baby boy. One word, one breath, one heartbeat at time.
I’m quite sure you always will.
Maybe we should have named you Atticus.
No matter, for things have a way of working out as they’re meant to. I watch you with your new loved ones. I marvel at the gift of it all, the sheer poetry of life writing itself a day at a time, in the most curious of rhythms—like how pages of a book that stirred your heart long ago should come to us, living and breathing.
In a young mom who loves the same book.
And in a little girl named Scout, crawling into your lap for a story.