It’s hard for me to believe, but my oldest son is old enough to be reading The Great Gatsby in English class. He knows it is my favorite book, and, since he is a most thoughtful human, he has been reading it out loud to me in the evenings.
I have read Gatsby several times and found that different elements of the story resonate with me, depending on my mindset and situation at the time of reading. There were times, for example, when Gatsby and Daisy’s unbalanced romance rang a bell with me. Not so much these days.
This go-round, what resonates is the narrator’s sense of being an outsider.
We are all outsiders, in some way or another. My recent outsideriness comes from changing careers about three years ago. At almost 50 years old, I have all the seniority of a 25-year-old who started her job right after college. While one would hope longevity might bring the comfort of experience, instead I entered middle age and exited my comfort zone simultaneously.
Thanks to some very patient and generous professionals — the plumbers, electricians, carpenters, masons, painters and HVAC technicians I work with every day — I have made up a lot of ground toward learning how houses get built and operate.
In fact, I realized how much I have learned, when a homeowner asked me a question about an extremely unusual situation in the house with expectation that I would know exactly what to do.
I confess, it was exciting to be taken for an expert. The words of narrator Nick Carraway in the opening pages of The Great Gatsby came to mind:
It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road.
“How do you get to West Egg village?” he asked helplessly.
I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.
To borrow yet another line from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” My own father, Billy Nelson, often said the best way to pay someone a compliment is to ask them for advice. By asking their advice, he told me, you acknowledge their expertise.
So even if I don’t know all the answers, I am grateful for all the questions. And I know where to turn for advice: to the plumbers, electricians, carpenters, masons, painters and HVAC technicians I work with every day. I hope my many questions to them confer a freedom of the neighborhood, or at least my admiration for their experience and technical skills.