I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (words spoken by Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby)
It’s not without a twinge of sadness that I think of Daisy Buchanan, one of the lead female characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, on the first day of summer each year. Her attitude towards the longest day of the year as something to long for and then mourn losing strikes me as such a depressing way to live, and yet, I recognize a similar disposition in myself.
I look forward to upcoming days and events — the vacation at the beach, the visit from my parents, holidays like Thanksgiving of Christmas, even just an ordinary weekend or an anticipated outing with a friend — and then I feel sad when they are over. Perhaps this is a natural human response to the ebbs and flows of any life.
Recently, though, I listened to a podcast that reframed how I consider the ending of a day to which I have looked forward. The host, Laura Vanderkam, explored the idea that our existence can be understood as being lived through three “selves”: an anticipating self, an experiencing self and a remembering self. Vanderkam explained that, much as attention to the present moment is lauded, the actual present moment is quite short, and so a good life requires giving proper attention to the anticipating and remembering selves as much as the experiencing self.
Her observations beg the question, how do we live fully and positively as anticipating selves and remembering selves?
The fact is that we have at least some degree of control over how we anticipate events as well as how we remember them. Do we dread the upcoming holiday because it will inevitably involve an exasperating conversation with great Uncle Harry? Or do we look forward to Aunt Mildred’s best-ever pecan pie and even sweeter disposition? Do we choose to remember the moment on vacation when the car tire went flat and we stood on the side of the road in ninety degree weather? Or do we choose to remember the ice cream bar with over fifty choices of toppings where we killed time as the tire was replaced?
Daisy Buchanan gives us a reminder of how not to operate as a remembering self. She watches for the longest day of the year and then misses it once it is gone. What if, instead, she watched for the longest day of the year, did something fun to celebrate it, and then looked back on the memories with happiness? This wouldn’t advance the plot of The Great Gatsby, but it’s a strategy that could work in our lives. When we are able to move from grief to gratitude when reflecting on the past, our experience of life will be more positive.
Reflect: What are you sad is over? Take a minute to remember the experience and consider what you’re most grateful for about it.
Teresa Coda works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church, dabbles in interfaith hospital chaplaincy, and writes about life and spirituality. She has a Masters in Divinity from Harvard Divinity School where she studied theology and pastoral care and counseling. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband Caleb, her daughter Esther and her Boston terrier Bean.