“So we beat on, boats against the current. . .

boat against the current going into future. . . borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

This closing line from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald came into my head Saturday night as I walked out of the building after the final performance of the Cherry Creek Chorale’s wonderful fall concert. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I very much dislike the novel itself. I can’t stand Daisy and don’t have the slightest idea why Jay Gatsby would carry a torch for her and even take the fall for her.

(You can read a pretty good plot synopsis here if you don’t want to read the novel—and you don’t.)

However, in spite of my dislike of the book as a whole, there’s no doubt that it has a great ending line, spoken by the first-person narrator who has told us the entire story, Nick Carraway. As I often say when I’m deconstructing some poem or other over on my music blog, you can’t take a piece of literature apart without destroying it somewhat. I’ve certainly had the experience of reading something and having a vague-but-satisfying reaction to it, then later coming across some analysis or other that made me think, ‘Oh, is that what it means? Huh. I didn’t get that at all,’ and feeling kind of deflated.

Well, I don’t want to do that kind of thing here. No deflation intended! I just love the image itself: the little boat, the person with bent head trying to row against the current and perhaps getting rain in his face, or fog, trying to peer ahead. Even describing it here is interfering somewhat with my mental picture.

More evocative, though, is the idea behind the image, or at least the idea that I get from it. I think Nick is saying that we can never escape the pull of the past: Gatsby ends up murdered because of his failure to let go of his years-long infatuation with Daisy. But for me the meaning has more to do with the fact that the current rushes past the boat, disappearing into the distance, never to be recovered or re-traversed. It’s like that quotation that’s supposed to be from the ancient Greek Heraclitus: that you can never step into the same river twice. For one thing, it’s not the same river because of the aforementioned current; for another, you’re not the same person now that you were before.

So it is with the Chorale concert. The current has rushed past; the gorgeous music, the little points of light from members’ booklights as we stood in the round, in the dark, to sing our first and last numbers, the slight missteps, the fun, the aching feet, the standing ovation. The Friday reception with the hordes of people and the aftermath of Jim and me packing up the tablecloths at 11:00 PM. All past, all over.

But we beat on. There is never a static moment. There is never a time when the current stops. It rushes past us as we move forward, as we have to move forward. Even today, even now as I sit in my kitchen with its no-longer-covered-with-powdered-sugar counters, writing this post.

How much are you aware of time rushing past?

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