At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout has fallen asleep while Atticus is reading to her. While he is taking her to bed, she is recounting to him in broken sentences what has happened in the story to “prove” to him that she “heard every word.” The name of the book was The Gray Ghost. In the story people are after this boy because they think he’s messing with their clubhouse, but they couldn’t catch him because no one knew what he looked like.
Scout finished her drowsy rendition with these words, “…when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things…Atticus, he was real nice…”
Atticus replied, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
Now, one might cry foul, having Atticus read a story that paralleled the kids’ experience with Boo Radley just so Atticus could make a point. (Of course, I’m not convinced that Scout isn’t mixing her stories here.) The point had to be made, though. The whole book is about perceptions: the kids’ of Boo, the town folks’ of Tom, the Ewell’s of Atticus, …
With the exception of Boo, everyone else could be seen clearly enough, I suppose, or could they? You see Boo is an anomaly. He wasn’t seen, but we see folks every day, and because we can see flesh, we think we know people. Atticus wasn’t talking about that at all. He was talking about standing in their shoes. That is why he could let Mr. Ewell spit in his face and wipe it off and go about his business. That is why he could defend Tom in the face of so much opposition. That is why he made Jem read to Mrs. DuBose. Atticus had the ability, no, the desire to stand in others’ shoes so that he could find the niceness in them. So he could love them.
The church is shamed by people like Atticus. We can’t afford not to walk in people’s shoes. For if we don’t we can’t love them, and we are called to love people. Scout had a special privilege to overcome her misconceptions about Boo, and she took advantage of it. How often do we take advantage of the opportunities that we have to walk in someone else’s shoes? When was the last time you took that opportunity? What difference did it make?