Sometimes we feel alone. It’s as if we’re the only person standing against an army of opposition, with no one leading us, no one standing with us, no one protecting our backs. It’s scary.
Recently, I’ve felt this way. Some of my views put me in awkward positions with other conservative Christians. While I feel strongly about gender equality in the church, it’s hard to be the only person saying, “That’s not right!” to a roomful of people with the opposite conviction. It’s hard to speak up. I never know if anyone will agree with me.
I feel alone.
It may be a spiritual conviction that puts us at odds with other people.
It may be speaking out for justice when silence would be easier, and when silence is encouraged by others.
It may be a secret feeling that no one else in the entire world deals with the same fear, the same anxiety, the same burden that we wrestle in the dark places of our soul.
It may be any number of things causing the feeling, but the feeling is the same.
We’re alone. We’re afraid.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch faces crowds of unfriendly faces multiple times. At one point, the lawyer sits at the door of the jail housing his black client (a man wrongly accused of rape), staring down a group of white men who want access to this man, Tom Robinson. He stands in the doorway, refusing to let them in.
The newspaper editor, Mr. Underwood, is upstairs, watching from a window, his gun ready to fight. But Atticus doesn’t know this.
It’s a tense scene.
Oddly, what turns the mob away is the interference of Atticus’s young daughter Scout. She recognizes one of the men in the mob and begins babbling, all friendly-like and southern polite sweetness, about his legal entailment and the hickory nuts he once brought to their house and his son, a fellow classmate of her’s. “Maybe he told you about me, I beat him up one time but he was real nice about it. Tell him hey for me, won’t you?”
A long awkward moment.
Then the man tells Scout, yes, he’ll say ‘hey’ for her. At that, he calls to the rest of the mob to clear out.
The tension is diffused by a child.
The mob is driven away by a child’s appeal to a man’s humanity.
The lawyer who believes he is alone has others with him: children at his side, a man with a shotgun backing him up, and a town full of African-Americans who are grateful for his futile effort to defend Tom Robinson from the false charges.
Later, after the jury returns the inevitable guilty verdict, Atticus leaves the courtroom in haste. Scout, watching in the “colored” balcony, sees her father walk quickly down the middle aisle. He doesn’t look up.
“Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.
‘Miss Jean Louise?’
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:
‘Miss jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”
–Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird, chapter 21
This scene never fails to move my heart. Yet another time, Atticus feels alone. He’s the only white man who has openly spoken for justice on behalf of a wrongly accused man. The guilty verdict is unjust, and everyone in the courtroom knows it, including those who have just sentenced a man to death.
But he’s not alone. Unseen by him, there are those who honor his attempt to fight for justice. There are others who agree with him; the sheriff, for example, the judge who appointed Atticus as Tom’s lawyer, and the handful of folks who believe all people should have fair trials. Some of them cannot speak out because of their roles in the judicial process or because they have not been given a voice. But they are still there.
Atticus may be the lone person speaking in Tom’s defense, but he is far from alone in his views.
Sometimes when we feel alone, trying to stand by ourselves against something bigger, we aren’t. There are others who stand with us, though we can’t see them. At this moment, we may be the only person speaking. But our attempts to speak up for justice are not futile. Others are encouraged to speak, too.
And when they do, we will find that we were never truly alone in the fight.