Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A bit of English

I can't help myself.  It's out there, all pretty and unblemished, and the sky is robin-egg blue and there's always another book to read so I just can't help it.  Each morning I climb out of bed, throw on whatever is nearest at hand, grab whatever book strikes my fancy, make myself a cuppa tea and a large insulated glass of ice water (which don't seem like they go together, but trust me, I'm a two-fisted drinker when it comes to these morning beverages), and go out back to our beautiful deck where the sun, and chairs and some world or other is waiting for me.  Then I don't come up for air until I'm so saturated by it that the cares of the day--the tasks I really should be doing--rise up to knock insistently on the door of my conscience.  I love the deck, oh my, how I love it, but I'm a little afraid it'll be my undoing.

Still.  The books I've been reading these last days.  Devouring is more the word.  One a day, like vitamin D every doctor seems to be pushing these days--seems not a one of us has been getting enough of it.  Who knew?  Who knew the whole wide world could be deficient of something?  Well, God did, of course.  That's the story of the Incarnation, isn't it? God knew we were in sad shape, not missing a single vitamin but the whole lot of them, and doomed to die because of what was in our body instead. Death.  Death was in our body, wasn't it?  So here He came, all life, and health and more full of the good, clean vitamins of God than any of us had ever seen. Then He went to bat for us.  Gave Himself up to the death, I should say, and now there's the perfect vitamin to fill us up with Life.  The Holy Spirit, available for the asking.  If we just reach out for Him. 

I got a bit sidetracked there, but how could I not?  It's a good point, after all, and worth the telling. 

Anyway, this morning, I reached for Catcher in the Rye, which has been sitting in a pile beside my bed for a while now.  It isn't new to me.  This copy is well-worn and travel-weary, but it's been years since I read it.  It's not a book I've loved.  Not like some people do.  When I was on the train from NJ to Massachusetts last month the people (I believe they might have been fellow educators on their way to a conference) in the seat behind me talked of books.  The woman had Catcher in the Rye with her because it's her all-time favorite book.  She reads it every year.  The man beside her had never read it, so she was extolling its virtues, then offered to let him read it during the conference.  "Don't worry, I'll read it again next month," she said.  As I listened to her, I thought of it sitting beside my bed, how I keep grabbing books from beneath it on the pile because I just couldn't make myself face Holden Caulfield and his teenage angst. In fact, he is the very definition of that teenage angst (and angst is a word I really hate using because I always connect it ONLY to teenagers, and hate stereotyping them so negatively). 

But this morning I began reading young Holden's story.  His painful, twisting and turning thoughts that start one place and wind up so far from there it's hard to figure out.  But I was stunned this morning, because it's exactly the way a person thinks, especially the way a young boy, trying to figure out life, thinks.  Starting here, ending up across the sea from there, and God alone knows how he got there.

But here's the other thing, Salinger breaks just about every rule you ever learned in every English class you ever had.  All those essays you wrote that came back with the second-persons (the 'you's) circled?  He speaks directly to the audience--or to some unknown "You"-- with prolific abandon.  There are run-on sentences mixed with half-sentences and I's where there should be me's and just plain put in the wrong place.  If a teacher of grammar looks too long and hard at Catcher they'll fall away in a dead faint, just imagining that such a thing could even work. That such a mess could have become such a hit, let alone the masterpiece it is, would be anathema in the abstract.

But that's the thing: it works.  And is brilliant, ridiculously brilliant.  Not merely because it takes us within that boy's mind, but does it in such an honest and convincing way.  And the way of convincing isn't always wrapped up in a tidy package.  Not when it's about a human being.

And there it is: my long-overdue point (or perhaps my second point). We're a whole lot more like Holden Caulfield in our thinking than we are like those College English 101 essays we had to write.  We stop and start thoughts, move with fleeting quickness from one thing to another.  I can't always retrace for Beve or my kids or friends how I moved from talking about the quilt I'm working on to the crumbling economy and whether China really is the new US.  And, even if you'd like to think so, I doubt I'm alone in this.  We don't even know ourselves completely.  Even those of us who are most introverted, most inclined to look at who and what we are, don't know ourselves.

Nevertheless, we are known.  Every hair on our heads.  Even my colored strands of hair right down to its roots are known by Him.  When my way seems winding and infathomable, when I am as full of angst as Holden Caulfield--and cannot blame it on being in the same hemisphere as a teenager--He knows me.  He gets me.  God doesn't look at me cross-eyed when I start down one path and don't finish my sentence.  He knows how that sentence ends.  He knows better than I do. 

And accepts me, exactly the way He accepts you and all your flaws and quirks.

And that, my friends, is the good news of this bright beautiful Northwest day.

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