I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The capacity for wonder.
America’s kids taught America’s adults a powerful lesson last weekend about optimism over cynicism. They were and are undaunted in their mission: To make their schools safe havens like we enjoyed in our youth. Why can’t it be done? Just because millions of adults over a generation failed?
Walking among them, absorbing their energy, full-throated in their position and not feeling the least daunted in their aspiration, reminded me of Jay Gatsby. Unlike Jay, though, who wants to repeat the past, they were focused on the now and the future.
The Great Gatsby, one of the greatest American novels, speaks to us to this day. It incisively gets to the crux of that which we call the American Dream. The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock that Jay reaches out across the bay for symbolizing one’s hope for a better tomorrow.
Nick Carraway, our story guide, tells us in the first chapter it doesn’t end well for Jay. He explains his disgust with that and those that preyed upon Gatsby, the one “who represented everything for which [he] had an unaffected scorn.” Yet, only Gatsby, with his “extraordinary gift for hope,” is exempt from Nick’s contempt.
The gift for hope.
The student rallies were a joy to see unfold, but they also make one wonder by what age the gift for hope, the proclivity towards optimism is stomped out leaving in its place a vacuum for cynicism. It makes one wonder if someone can state she is personally optimistic but cynical about her culture and society. Are not the culture and society comprised of the collective whole?
The student rallies offer us the opportunity to explore what we truly mean by the American Dream. It is often defined in context of financial success. For example, we’re told millennials and even Gen Xers don’t and won’t have it as good as the Boomer generation. That might be true if considered in context of material wealth, but if one subscribes to the philosophy that money can’t buy happiness, then that statement becomes false.
One of the downsides of adulthood is the inability or unwillingness to frolic, to romp, to have fun, which is an expression of a hopeful, optimistic person. As kids, fun came naturally. Now, for many it only comes virtually…by watching others have it. Even sports have become funless. Rather than participation, they’ve become focused on outcome: Winning. If one finds his fun in winning, he’s already lost the game.
Sunday is Easter, Christendom’s essential day. For Christians, the meaning is literal: Jesus rose from the dead. For non-Christians though, Easter offers a symbolic reminder about hope, of resurrection over death in all its forms: fear, despair, cynicism among them.
“Gatsby believed in the green light,” Fitzgerald writes, “in the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….And one fine morning——”
Haven’t read it or been a while since you have? Now’s the time to pull it from the shelf, check it out of your library, or, better, buy a copy to highlight, mark up, and dog-ear for future reference.
Perhaps to celebrate Easter, kick off your shoes and romp barefoot stupidly through the grass, frolicking with your kids, your dogs, or, more daring, with a fun-averse adult. Crack yourself up and make others wonder if you’re cracking up. Then, lie back, take in the world around you, and read if for no other reason than to remind yourself of your innate capacity for wonder.