When she was just a little girl, her father taught her to climb stairs and boulders and playground monkey bars and ladders.
She would stand at the top, hold out her arms and cry out with delight, “Catch me Daddy! Catch me!”
And her father would stand below, arms stretched out towards her and say, “I will always catch you.”
As time passed and she grew older, the climbs became more difficult, but she was never afraid of falling. She always knew her father would be standing below, arms outstretched towards her saying, as he always did, “I will always catch you.”
Time passed, life flowed onwards and with its constant movement, she too moved away to start her own life far from her father. They still talked on the phone and always on her birthday, she would come to visit to walk to the park where she had learned to climb and fly, safe in the knowledge her father would always catch her.
Seasons changed, years passed and as she grew older so too did her father. Slowly, with the passing of time, he was no longer able to always be there to catch her when she fell, but she always knew that if she did, he would help her get back up. It was his promise.
“I can’t always catch you when you fall,” he told her when first she moved away from home. “But I promise, I will always be there to help you get back up.”
One day, after his daughter called to say she could not make it home to celebrate her birthday with him as she had to travel to a city far away, he walked to the park where every birthday when she was a little girl, she’d climbed the slide and stood at the top and stretched out her arms towards him and called out, “Catch me daddy! Catch me!”,
On this day many years later, he sat on a bench in the shade of a mighty oak tree and watched a little girl with flaxen hair and sparkling blue eyes climb up the stairs to the top of the slide. A short distance away, too far to catch her if she fell, her father stood unaware, his head turned down, reading something on the phone he held in his hands.
The old man, who had once reached out his arms towards his daughter and said, “I will always catch you,” watched in dismay as the little girl stood at the top of the slide and called out to her father, “Catch me daddy! Catch me!”. Her father didn’t hear her.
The old man stood up from the bench and slowly began to shuffle, as fast as his arthritic legs would let him, towards the child who still stood at the top of the slide, arms outstretched calling to her father, “Catch me daddy! Catch me!”
“Hey!” the old man called out to the father standing with his head bent towards his phone. “Hey! Watch out! She’s going to fall!”
The father, hearing the old man’s voice, looked up and saw the old man, his arms waving wildly around his face pointing towards his daughter where she stood at the top of the slide, calling to him, “Catch me Daddy! Catch me!”
In one seamless move, he tucked his phone into his jacket pocket, took three strides towards the slide and reached his arms out towards his daughter. “I will always catch you,” he said as the tiny bundle of her body catapulted itself down the slide into his waiting arms.
The old man stopped and watched the two pair of arms unite. The child laughed in delight as her father picked her up, held her above his head and spun her about just as he had once spun his daughter so long ago.
The father carefully put his daughter on the ground the thee two moved off towards the swings, the little girl holding his hand and she said in her sing-song voice, “I want to swing as high as the sky!” And the father placed her on the stretch of rubber seating and began to push her. The child laughed and called out. “Higher! Higher! I want to touch the sky” And the father pushed her higher and higher until she let go of the swings chains and called out, “Catch me Daddy! Catch me!”
And he did.
Slowly, the old man turned away and began walking back towards his home. His heart felt heavy with the longing for a child’s arms outstretched towards him and his reaching back.
Lost in memory he didn’t notice he’d reached the main road and stepped off the sidewalk without stopping to check for traffic.
Suddenly, a pair of hands reached out and grabbed his shoulders, pulling him back to safety just as a city bus went whizzing by.
Startled, he lost his footing and almost fell to the ground, but the same hands gently caught him and broke his fall. He took a shaky breath, turned his face up to thank his would be savior where they knelt beside him as he sat on the ground.
“Are you okay?” a voice he recognized asked. He turned his face and his eyes opened wide as he peered into the deep blue eyes of his daughter kneeling beside him.
“How is this possible?” he asked breathlessly. “You said you were going to a city far away.”
And his daughter smiled and said, “I wanted to surprise you.”
The old man reached out with a shaky hand to take hers and said, “I’m so glad you were here to catch me.”
And his daughter smiled again and said, “You need to pay more attention dad to where you’re going. That bus almost hit you. I can’t always be here to catch you.”
And her father nodded his head, his white hair moving around his face like feathers floating in the air.
Slowly he began to stand and asked, “Will you help me get back up?”
And she reached one hand under his elbow and said, “Of course.” And as she helped him get to his feet she said, “I can’t always be here to catch you when you fall, but I will always help you get back up.”
Yesterday, a dear friend, Max, called. We haven’t spoken in a long time, but it was as if time had not passed.
In our conversation, he shared many stories of the people who have helped him on his journey. “I have an idea,” he said. “What do you think about writing a poem called, “I Will Always Catch You.”
I loved the idea of writing a poem to his title — it fits so well to something I used to tell my daughters when, as young adults, they set off to make their way in the world. “I can’t always be there to stop your fall,” I told them. “Sometimes, it’s best I don’t. But know, that no matter where or how hard you fall, I will always be there to help you get back up.”
This morning, as Beau and I walked in the cool September air of an autumnal day, Max’s idea kept percolating through my mind. When I came home, I sat down at my desk and the story above appeared.
Thank you Max. It’s not ‘a poem’… YET – like the river, life takes its own course weaving its stories in mysterious and mystical ways.