Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dear Mr. Salinger,

Consider this the fan letter I never wrote, the tribute that will never be eloquent enough. What I will try to be, more than anything else, is genuine.

I like to think that it made you very proud that The Catcher in the Rye became a high-school standard. After the bans, and the buzz, that your book could quietly sit in the hands of almost every young teen for the past forty plus years. That you very nearly were The Catcher in the Rye, scooping us up before we could fall as Holden did. I like to think that despite how disappointing, maddening or frightening you found the world, you at least took comfort in that.

I can't cite pages but I know you brought me to tears. I couldn't say if it's true but like I like to think that it's because so much of who Holden was existed in myself. Angry, Hypocritical, Frightened: your portrait of youth, fifty years old, still walked the Earth, even in a world as rapidly changing as ours today. I know I didn't understand what you were saying then, but I felt what you were saying and maybe that's how it's best said. Holden was a friend, a kindred soul, teetering not only on the line between youth and adulthood, but life and destruction. That you allowed him to walk those dark waters with us, that you did your best to preserve us, is enough merit your veneration.

It's possible I misunderstand you. I don't know why you left us for your remote home in Cornish, but I do hope you were never the image of the misanthrope. Through your writing, you have always seemed a man of great compassion. I want to smile and cry simultaneously-- and I am -- As I remember the way BooBoo held Lionel at the end of Down by the Dinghy, as he sobbed, hurt that he had been called a Kyke, though he had no idea of what one was. I cannot imagine your self-imposed exile was out of hate, I can only hope it was that your soul was too gentle. You were a man your neighbors protected, sending snoopers on goose-chases, and whom your son, when asked for comment today, simply hollered out the kitchen window "My father was a great father." And though I never knew you, I don't want to believe anything else.

You saw a world of tiny tragedies, and told stories of coping, acceptance, and sometimes the inability to do so with the enigmatic A Perfect Day for Bananafish. You were a brilliant writer, a misunderstood genius, a compassionate soul, a teacher by your sheer existence, and a hero to a generation and then some.

For all of the hopes I have already hoped here, I hope most of all that your passing is only the beginning of our acquaintance, that you're not yet done teaching us, and that you have left us with more of your life, now that your physical presence is gone.

Forever yours,
Joseph Miller

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