I’ve been acting at the community theater where I live for as long as I can remember. I’m currently playing “Mayella” in To Kill A Mockingbird, and I have literally hated every single second of it. She was the one character I absolutely did not want to play, and I was pretty mad when the director, who I’m friends with, cast me in her role. I didn’t care how much of a compliment to my acting it supposedly was to make me play someone so unlike myself. I didn’t want to yell at everyone, have a black eye, and mess up my hair. We still have five more shows, and I still do not want to do any of that. But thanks to an incredible assistant director, there’s one part that I love and I don’t hate Mayella as much as I hate having to be the one to tell her story. Her story is one worth telling though, because Mayella and her story changed me forever.
In case you aren’t familiar with the story, Mayella and her family are poor white trash. Her mother died; none of them stay in school; her father is abusive in more ways than one. I felt badly for her. I honestly did… I still didn’t like her. Atticus gives her countless chances to just tell the truth, but she persists in her lie. Her lie that is essentially the cause of the death of Tom Robinson, an innocent, kind African American. I couldn’t figure out why she began to scream her head off at the exact moment that more compassion than she had ever received in her life was being extended to her. I know I didn’t live in 1935, but I couldn’t understand why such an act of hatred was preferable to her unaccepted act of love. I walked off the stage every night with such hatred for her and myself for becoming her. My heart was always overcome with such a burden of guilt. Then, I realized that Mayella’s heart was probably overcome with a burden of guilt as well. She’s just trapped in a situation she didn’t want to be in to begin with.
In getting to know this damaged person, I was forced to confront the depth of human brokenness. When I was practicing, I couldn’t comprehend how a person could have that much anger. I sat down and considered all that she had gone through. I thought about this girl who couldn’t even express any kind of love for the one person in the world who showed her kindness because he was of a different race. I wondered if she knew what it felt like to be loved. Probably not. People are only as angry as Mayella when they don’t know anything else. They’re only that mean when they haven’t been introduced to love. They’re only hard, hateful, and cold because that’s all they’ve ever known.
I looked at a picture of myself as Mayella: ugly dress, skinned leg, black eye, dirt everywhere, mean face, hair a knotted mess. I asked myself if I would be friends with a girl who looked like that. The honest answer was probably not. And that was the moment I discovered the real problem. I developed an overwhelming amount of compassion for her and everyone like her. I believe she had the potential to be an incredible person. She was already overlooking racial boundaries to see the soul of a person. All it would’ve taken was someone to overlook her appearance to see her soul.
My favorite part of the entire production is during curtain call when the actor who plays Tom and I bow together, and we hug. It’s the moment that gives me hope-for Mayella and for everyone. It’s the moment that reminds me of the radical forgiveness and grace of God, as well as the forgiveness we’re capable to extend through Him. It’s the moment my smile couldn’t get any bigger because redemption wins. It’s the moment I realize that her story isn’t over, and I like to believe that she finds the strength to do what’s right and to choose love.
This isn’t going to be one of those characters that I wish I could play every single day for the rest of my life. In fact, I never want to be Mayella again. But I’m thankful for her nonetheless, and I’m even more thankful for what she’s taught me. My compassion for others no longer has limits. It’s not reserved for those who look like they’ll be accepting of it or those who look any particular way. It’s for everyone, regardless of how broken they are. I’m not going to withhold forgiveness. The enormity of the offense doesn’t matter because Christ is always waiting, with open and loving arms, and I should be too. I’m not going to give up on anyone either. There is always hope. Hope for Mayella. Hope for me. And hope for all of you.
1 Corinthians 16:23-24,