*A 1000 word oration written for a 13 year old girl…(don’t ask.)
and the Art of Growing Up
“I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff!
I have to catch everybody if they start to go off the cliff…
they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going.
I have to come out of somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day.”
Image courtesy of http://davewhitepaintings.com
This pivotal quote is from JD Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye.
Even if you’ve never read the book, or you have and didn’t enjoy it for whatever reason, everything you need to take away from it, the underlying message and, in particular, the story’s precocious teenage protagonist Holden Caulfield, is contained in this single extract.
It not only gives the book its title and moral, it represents that eternal struggle each and everyone of us have had, or are having or will have: the battle between wanting to grow up and stay a child as long as possible.
A bit of background to this extract, which occurs towards the finale of the story:
Holden is this terribly arrogant, but poignant, yet also deeply unreliable narrator. He’s just described, throughout the book, his misadventures in the big bad city with various nefarious elements and illicit sidetracks and some dangerous close calls.
In between it all, he offers some of his life philosophy, which, essentially boiled down, is this idea that the world is a cold, hard place, that people (adults) – for lack of better word – just suck, and the only redeeming feature humankind has are its children and their innocence.
I’ll get back to Holden in a moment. But I want to talk about that often treacherous journey between being a kid and becoming an adult.
We’ve all been there haven’t we? As a teenager myself I often wonder what it would be like to do and say as I please, as I presume most adults are free to do – which all the grown-ups I know seem to tell me is absolutely not true.
But that’s what drives me – and every other teenager- forward: the promise of maturity, the ability to one day be a grown-up and make my own decisions, be they what time I can go to bed, what I can and cannot eat and, ultimately, what to believe and not to believe.
Yet at the same time, I think, I don’t really want to grow up yet. I like not having to worry about paying rent, holding down a job or being filled with regret and doubt.
Yet, still, I can’t wait long enough to be out there, free and on my own power. It keeps me up at night sometimes, that fearful unknown that still holds so much excitement.
It’s really is hard being a kid sometimes, with grand dreams of being an adult, yet still wanting remain a child.
Bill Watterson, the genius behind the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, summed it up quite nicely, naturally through the voice of his precocious creations:
“You know what’s weird about growing up? Day by day nothing seems to change, but pretty soon, everything’s different.”
Life moves so quickly that we’re so busy growing up, we forget to enjoy it. Maturity is not a destination, it’s a journey. In this fast paced world today, we move too fast to have time to admire the view. Kids should be encouraged to do look out the window more regularly.
Holden Caulfield realised it, and thought he could do something about it, if not for himself, then for others.
Caulfield realises that children are so busy being pure clean slates to be bothered with the intricacies of this cruel world, that they choose to rather live an existence that is simple and innocent.
By the end of his tale, and in this famous Catcher quote, he takes it upon himself to dedicate himself in whatever metaphorical way, to being a protector of this innocence.
He wants to be the catcher of children before they fall into the vast darkness of the outside world.
All parents should be able to identify with that: the need to protect, not only physically, but spiritually as well, that beautiful experience of being young.
This ideal is significant enough on its own, I dare say that most people would like to think of themselves as saviours of innocence, yet what makes Holden Caulfield even more impressive but ultimately more tragic, is that he starts out as one heck of an old soul: a cynical, self-absorbed and thoroughly unlikable soul – a typical teenager, if you will.
His final step away from this dark philosophy is the realisation that we’re all better off staving off adulthood as long as we can, yet he also realises he’s lost so much of his own youth in finding this out. Youth wasted on the young, as George Bernard Shaw would have it.
Childhood is not a race, it is a journey. There are bumps along the way, a couple of detours and more than a few unscheduled stops at important and beautiful places where we should all be encouraged to take as many selfies as we can.
JM Barrie, the creator of the classic Boy Who Never Grows Up Peter Pan himself – summed up the eternal struggle between being a child and having to be an adult rather aptly with this beautifully simple idea:
“if growing up means it is beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
then I never want to grow up.”
I thank you.