Back in those days my brother was stick-and-bones skinny. He was in the lowest weight class, so he wrestled in the first round. It wasn’t long before the other boy had my brother on the mat, trying to pin his shoulders to the floor.
It was awful for me to watch. The other boy using his might to push and pull and tangle my brother. All the while, my brother fought back, trying to wiggle out from under the hold, trying to keep his shoulders up.
I think he knew he was beat. But he didn’t give up.
I seem to recall rushing off to the bathroom to sob, I was so angry and so confused and so hurt for my big brother (even though it hadn’t hurt his feelings, it had demolished mine).
Fast forward thirty-some-odd years to this week. I’m rereading To Kill a Mockingbird. I couldn’t tell you how many times this is. What I can tell you is that this reading has hit me differently. I don’t know if it’s because this is the first time I’ve read it as a parent or the first time I’ve read it as a novelist or because it’s the first time I’ve read it in my thirties. But it is striking me differently.
What I’m taking away from this reading is the very same lesson I learned from watching my brother in that and every other one of his wrestling matches that year.
Sometimes you can’t win. But that doesn’t make the fight any less noble or courageous or worthwhile. Often, even in losing we overcome simply because we showed up and because we did what we knew to be right.
I think of Paul getting up after being stoned and left for dead, moving on to tell more people about Christ. Corrie ten Boom hiding Jews in her home only to be carted off to Auschwitz. Martin Luther King, Jr. marching peacefully against the hatred of those who would rather see people of his race further oppressed.
They were pinned. But they kept thrashing against that which was wrong. They fought a good fight. They didn’t back down from what was right.
Late last night I read the court scene from To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch stood against a hundred years of inequality, stood beside a man he wouldn’t have been allowed to share a meal with, opposed those who would just as soon see the man lynched. Before the trial even began, he knew he’d lose. Still, he fought.
I read, letting myself forget the outcome of the trial. Then I let the unjust verdict sink into my soul. I let myself cry when I read these words.
“Miss Jean Louise, stand. Your father’s passin’.”
For all those who stand for justice or mercy, those who show courage in the face of hopelessness, the ones who have faith beyond reason, I believe that a great cloud of witnesses stands by. They stand to honor the brave.
We have a battle to fight, a race to finish, a journey to trek. But we are not left alone. We have this cloud of those who went before us, who didn’t give up even though they were licked before they even began. And as we pass, they stand.