Friday, January 29, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

I have played every role, taken every part,
so that I might save each one.
I Corinthians 9:22

When I was at North United Methodist Church in Manchester, Connecticut, we had an annual fall picnic at Penwood Park in Simsbury. On a fall Sunday after church we drove out to the park. With a large group of adults and children we hiked the trails and then had a picnic together.

The trail runs along the top of a mountain ridge next to the Farmington River Valley. At several points there are wonderful views of the valley. In the fall, with the leaves turning, it is spectacular.

As we hiked, the group tended to separate into smaller groups. Children ran back and forth between the groups and then came back to their parents. At one point we left the main trail to climb a promontory with a great view. The trail ended abruptly at a cliff. Cresting the hill, it looked like the trail went on, but when we reached the summit, it was a cliff.

I was with one of the lead groups, and when we reached the cliff we sent one of the older children back to tell the groups behind us to be careful. Almost as soon as our messenger left, there was a commotion on the trail and a little boy came flying through the woods. When he saw us, he knew that he was near the front of the line and he wanted to pass us. I caught him with an outstretched arm.

He was unhappy and upset with me for stopping him, totally unaware that the only thing beyond us was empty air. I was shaking from what could have happened and thrilled that I had stopped him.

For that brief instant, I was (at least in my own mind) the Catcher in the Rye. And it was a great feeling.

Near the end of J.D. Salinger’s great novel, Holden Caulfield says to his sister, Phoebe, "You know that song, 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye'?..." And Phoebe corrects him, "It's 'If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!... It's a poem. By Robert Burns."

Then Holden completes his thought,"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."

Me too.

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