Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rest in Peace, JD.

We all knew Holden Caulfield, that quirky, brilliant kid with the dumb clothes and the incessant lies; the one that came out of nowhere and only said things we never expected. His was a dangerous charm. The kind that could hurt you with its meaningless, and break your heart with its observance. He was the one we all expected to die after we loved him but before we understood.

I read J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye my sophomore year of high school. Something in the jaded, critical, realist view of Holden held me captive, as if he shared insight I might never be able to put into words. The uncertainty, the moving away from innocence, the progression of loneliness, loss, alienation, the complexity of human relationships that Holden moved in and out of felt familiar to me, an adolescent acutely aware of the quickly shifting gears from carefree youth to complicated adulthood. Change was inevitable, but I didn't have to like or approve of it anymore than Holden Caulfield. And when I wanted, in following years, to revisit that stubborn disapproval of phony adulthood, I could always go back to Holden and Salinger and know that somewhere, Salinger was still capturing these words I admired, still needed and still felt incapable of capturing myself. Somewhere, Holden was standing out on the edge of some crazy cliff watching everybody run, not looking where they were going...still coming out and catching them before they went over the cliff...the catcher in the rye.

When I learned J.D. Salinger died today, I thought of the works of his I've read and taught. How desperate and greedy in my youth I had been for more of his work to be published, for him to trust in humanity as an audience again. It is only in his death that I will be able to add to my small collection of Salinger texts and this would have made my younger self happy--the self that didn't realize that the birth of new work meant the death of that person out there, standing at the edge, waiting to catch us before we went over.

I will miss knowing you were out there.

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