The Catbird Seat
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “sitting in the catbird seat.” Some readers may know what it means, but I would suspect that many don’t quite understand it, and even more don’t know how it originated. As with many sayings that have been around for many years, the precise origin is subject to debate. Author James Thurber is probably most responsible for making the phrase popular in the American lexicon, following his short humorous story, The Catbird Seat, published in The New Yorker in 1942. A character in the story explains, “sitting in the catbird seat” means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. Because of my level of interest in it’s origin, I’ve invested a diminutive amount of time researching the topic, and have determined that it is highly likely that both Thurber and baseball broadcaster, Red Barber popularized the phrase, while it was probably coined in the 19th century. In any event, you now know as much as I do about this topic.
Why a catbird was chosen as the seat descriptor, I am not sure. But I did find a pair Gray Catbirds last week at Riverside Park, along the Yellowstone River in Billings, MT. These birds are a type of Mockingbird that is commonly found in all but five or six states in the continental U.S. Unlike many other birds, the Gray Catbird is able to recognize it’s own eggs, making them less likely to care for the eggs of brood parasites, like the Brown-headed Cowbird. One commonality with the Thurber phrase is that a group of catbirds is collectively referred to as a “seat” of catbirds. How that is an enviable position, I don’t understand!
It sounds to me like the catbird seat is akin to being in a place of comfort, peace and joy. While there is no Biblical reference to this phrase, I think Jesus Christ invites us into the catbird seat, as written in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30).
Biblical commentator, Matthew Henry (1662-1714), expanded upon these Scriptures:
Christ invites all to come to Him for rest to their souls. He alone gives this invitation; men come to Him, when, feeling their guilt and misery, and believing His love and power to help, they seek Him in fervent prayer. Thus it is the duty and interest of weary and heavy-laden sinners, to come to Jesus Christ. This is the gospel call; Whoever will, let him come. All who thus come will receive rest as Christ’s gift, and obtain peace and comfort in their hearts. But in coming to Him they must take His yoke, and submit to His authority. They must learn of Him all things, as to their comfort and obedience. He accepts the willing servant, however imperfect the services. Here we may find rest for our souls, and here only. Nor need we fear his yoke. His commandments are holy, just, and good. It requires self-denial, and exposes to difficulties, but this is abundantly repaid, even in this world, by inward peace and joy. It is a yoke that is lined with love.
Are you in the ultimate catbird seat?
- Our Pear-eating Catbird (wildbirdsunlimited.typepad.com)