Sometimes you find treasure in unexpected places.
I’ve been reading The Great Gatsby for my book group. The opening chapters are full of wealthy people partying in beautiful places. But nothing is as idyllic as it seems. All the characters are desperately clutching for happiness whilst living ugly lives full of darkness: unfaithfulness, domestic violence and drunkenness. I wasn’t enjoying it.
Then the main character, Gatsby, is introduced. He is wandering unrecognised through the party he himself has thrown and the narrator of the story meets him but commits the awkward social gaffe of making it clear he hasn’t a clue who he is talking to or who ‘this fellow Gatsby’ is.
Here’s what happened next…
‘He (Gatsby) smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrate on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey’
(F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby)
Wow! That paragraph stopped me in my tracks. I know that smile, I thought. That ‘irresistible prejudice in my favour’. A smile that knows me, accepts me, understands me. A smile that covers my gaffes. A smiles that assures me that I’m accepted and acceptable.
And the person I know who smiles in this way, also walks unrecognised through a party of his own throwing. Many, many people fail to spot him even though they enjoy the provision he has made . Others will be too engrossed in their own pursuit of happiness they’ll miss out on meeting the host. Still others circulate unfavourable rumours about the true nature of the host (‘is he really a villain in disguise?’). But for those who meet him, there is that smile. I’ve only been able to find an artist’s impression, but I hope it helps you recognise him when the opportunity comes along.
(Image is a picture by Richard Hook)