Passing Atticus

By: Adam Sutton

This month we are trying something a little different here at OnceEveryThirty. While each writer always has freedom to write as they please, this month I’ve asked the team to think about reading and inspiration as they write. I hope you enjoy and thanks for your support!

I’m a teacher. I started teaching 11 years ago full of idealism about how I was going to change the world.  Education was the key to solving the world’s problems and developing the next generation of leaders capable of implementing reforms to make life on Earth better.  It was a noble calling. 

11 years later my noble view of education and teaching remains.  I still think my job is about changing the world for the better.   But, my resilience and excitement about being in the classroom have waned.  I know teachers are a necessity.  I’m less sure I’m making a difference. 

In 11th grade, I met Atticus Finch.  It was an uninspired meeting.  He fought against racism and ignorance.  It was a quaint little idea that, at 17, could only have been a work of fiction. 

Then, I started teaching. The vision of Atticus standing up to the townspeople, setting an example for his kids, refusing to back down against steep odds and lots of resistance flooded back.  Through a lot of challenges, Atticus served as a sort of North Star for me, reminding me about purpose and commitment. 

Until I was 20 years old, soccer was my life.  Soccer was all about pushing the limits.  Compete harder.  Train harder.  Run faster.  Lift more.  It taught me about sustaining effort and getting the most out of my abilities: lessons that stuck with me through college and into the workplace.    

Lately though, Atticus has been like a nagging parent making every move more strained than needed.  Every time his image comes to mind, I cringe inside and feel guilty.  After 11 years trying to save all the Tom Robinson’s, I’m growing convinced the effort is futile.  The Atticus Finches of the world understand what it is to lose. 

I don’t know what happened to Atticus Finch, and how he dealt with the sting of defeat.  Did he keep his idealism?  Did he persist through the loss of Tom and Tom’s trial?  Was he a cynic afterwards?  At 17, I didn’t know enough to wonder or care about Atticus’ fate.  I was too self-centered for it to have mattered anyway.   

My daughter Brooke’s first soccer practice was last weekend.  She’s 5, but I could feel the “train harder” mentality rising up.  Instead, I forced myself to stick to “Good job,” “Run fast” and “Kick it hard!”  It was as good as any soccer practice I’ve ever attended.  It looks like soccer is going to be a little different going forward, just like Atticus and I too.    

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