Scout Finch utters these words at a turning point in To Kill a Mockingbird. It's a moment of recognition, understanding, and catharsis. After being disillusioned and saddened by the death of Tom Robinson, she and Jem are nearly victims of violence themselves. But the ghost she had feared as a little girl has turned into their savior and friend. When Boo appears at the Finch home, Scout sees him--literally and figuratively--for the first time.
Like the reclusive Boo Radley, Harper Lee fiercely guarded her privacy. She has said that the overwhelming response to Mockingbird "knocked her cold." She was a modest woman who thought she was telling a modest story, not one that would become ingrained in American culture--beloved, argued over, dissected, and taught for more than half a century.
I have taught To Kill a Mockingbird for 20 of the 25 years I spent in the classroom, and each time I found something new in the story. Like the gifts that Boo leaves in the old tree for Scout and Jem, Harper Lee has given us a story that symbolizes who she is. I feel her loss today as though she were a friend. As though I, in some way, knew her. But I realize it is only with her passing that we can know her. That we can finally say, "Hey, Nelle. Thank you for everything."