This week marked the return of both Chris Hadfield and “The Great Gatsby.” Many of you have read Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, a story about a young man’s coming of age. Jay Gatzby, a mysterious Long Island millionaire, is a man with a past. How did he acquire those riches? Why does he throw those extravagant parties? Why does he care so much about those shirts, “shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel”? And what is so important about single, green light?
In some ways New York of the 1920’s is not all that different from today’s Toronto. In both settings there is an exciting premonition of opportunity, a sense that we are very much in the middle of things, and a belief in the power of dreams. Throw in a bit our distinctive “Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat” culture, and you can almost feel that sense of the quest, the quest to run faster and jump higher, the quest to achieve a better, more exciting, and more fulfilling future.
Gatsby tries to recreate both the past and himself, but he fails because he chases the wrong dream, an unworthy dream, a dream that can never quite measure up to his enormous romantic vitality. The tragedy is that in ceaselessly pursuing a flawed and unworthy goal, he ends up compromising his values and eventually himself.
By contrast, this week we were also graced with the return of Chris Hadfield, the engaging Canadian astronaut who dazzled the world with his scientific expertise, his use of social media, his creativity, and his musical skills. (David Bowie’s got nothing on him!) Talk about making a difference! Chris Hadfield’s expansive and generative dream of exploring the great beyond, in order to make things better for the rest of us, makes Gatsby’s ambition seem small and self-serving by contrast.
Hadfield’s life’s work suggests that the real quest always extends beyond the self, beyond simply personal ambition, no matter how grand that personal ambition may be. The real quest, what others might call a life task, is always intimately connected to the broader good.
So my take-away for you is a hope: hope that you will find a life task that is worthy of your best intentions, worthy of your best efforts, worthy of your life. I hope you find your “inner Major Tom” and in so doing discover a life-task that will help you make a difference.