Our granddaughter has recently learnt to say ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’, sounds that are accompanied by an outstretched arm and a small wave. As any parent remembers and any grandparent knows, it is a captivating and charming development in the life of an infant.
Thea is generous and inclusive with her salutations. She greets the lady sweeping leaves, the grandfather feeding ducks, the delivery man runnning with his parcels. Sometimes the person smiles and waves back. A brief respite. A moment of connection.
In Salinger’s novel, ‘A Catcher in the Rye’, Holden Caulfield feels responsible for all the little children playing in a field of rye. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. He imagines having to catch the children before they all go over a cliff. His sister, Phoebe explains that he’s misremembered the words from the Robert Burns poem. She tells him that it’s ‘meet’ not ‘catch’.
Thea has taught me something important. She has taught me how to greet those I meet in a field of rye. She has taught me to smile at strangers, not all strangers but the kind I am prone to overly-analyse – the man with the growling wolf tattoo on his upper arm, the woman with the too-short skirt. Before my brain clicks into its well-worn groove, I try and catch myself. I smile. And when I do, I think of Thea.
Holden’s right. Those who are ‘big’ have a responsibility to guard and protect those who are ‘little’. But those of us who are big have also been provided with opportunities to witness the innocence, the single-pointed attention and the wonder of those who are still little. Thea has taught me the value of smiling at strangers.
Gin a body meet a body, comin thro’ the rye, Gin a body kiss a body, need a body cry; from ‘Comin thro’ the Rye’ Robert Burns, 1782