Long Island, Jay Gatzby, Siddhartha and Family
I am finishing up a weekend in Roslyn Harbor, Long Island, with my wife, father and brother in-law. It has been a surprisingly refreshing weekend full of muted adventure, understated warmth and a subtle satisfaction. In other words, it was a surprise that I enjoyed it this much.
Roslyn Harbor is adjacent to many areas of great wealth and famous residents, such as Theodore Roosevelt’s estate at Sagamore Hill and other manicured and impossibly beautiful waterside palatial residences in Oyster Boy. Yesterday, I stood on the sand approaching Oyster Bay down a trail from Sagamore Hill (literally with thousands of oyster shells crushed in the sand and surf) and watched the water lap onto shore. Perhaps not surprsingly, I am reminded of The Great Gatsby, which takes place in Great Neck, just right down the shore from Teddy Roosevelt’s place.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, 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 then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The green light is probably still there, although I haven’t seen it. That orgastic future still recedes with each passing year (pardon me for this, but I just turned 34-while not old, is certainly moving further from frivolous youth). The real sharpness of the quote is the last sentence. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly against the past. I have always thought that Fitzgerald was speaking of America here and the world at large. He channeled it through Jay Gatzby, this bootlegger recreated gentleman. This man who will never be accepted as what he wants to be. This is America trying to recreate the world in its image; this is me reinventing myself professionally and geographically every 5 years.
More importantly, this is a boat against the current; this is the human at war with himself. We are the boat. All natural tendency is with the current; we strive against it. Why? For what gain? It must surely be through some infernal concoction of ego, desire, ambition. It must be through some notion of past, future. Disregarding the present. The water ceaselessly lapping against the boat. The water; the reality. My ego, my choice.
As I always do, I liken this a bit towards Siddhartha’s contemplation of the water in the Thomas Mann novel. The water is there, always; it is not the same, always. Every single instance we the water, it is different. It is not the same water, but it is. We are not the same, but we are still us. This water slapping against the hull of the boat or flowing by both gently and violently is the present. This weekend taught me that is where I want to live more of the time than I do now.
We walked around Caumsett State Park, an old horse farm, hundreds of acres stretched in grassy fields. Beautiful sun, good conversation and companionship. And then I spotted a perfect tree in a perfect field. If an alien arrived at my doorstep today and I needed to teach them what a tree was, this is where I would point. It pleased my soul on some level, this perfection. I felt it was perfect; or maybe I was perfectly able to appreciate it at that moment. Maybe I was in the present, with the current, aware.
We had dinner with the four of us and I talked random history with her encyclopedia of a father. I could see him light up and it pleased me. We ate outside next to the water. The day was beautiful.
So, I leave Roslyn Harbor today to take my brother in-law back to Kennedy Airport and then we drive back to Princeton. I will remember this as a good weekend. Very good. I will leave worrying less about my future, concentrating more on my present. I will love my wife and life. I will not be Jay Gatsby, looking for acceptance, vindication for what I have become. I will just become it.