I’ve always heard it talked about, but last week in an effort to put off a bit of writing I needed to finish I fiddled on Facebook and came across a link to David Foster Wallace’s timeless commencement address, “This Is Water.”
I always thought I knew what it was about, but this time came away with new impressions.
Now we all know these kinds of speeches can be extremely cheesy. Or if not cheesy then extremely boring. And if not extremely boring, then drudgery, the thing you need to sit through in order to get to the next thing. Life. Debt. A job? Your future. Out to eat with family, friends, your girlfriend/boyfriend/the person you are about to split from. The promised road trip, European vacation, summer of freedom. Grad school.
But what struck me the most was that Water was Life. The thing one can easily overlook, dismiss, become so used to that it is taken for granted. Just like water for a fish—yet so essential. Ordinary life is just that—life. The stuff we swim around in until it is pointed out to us that we are indeed swimming, indeed living. In comparison to what? It is all we’ve ever known. No big deal.
The subtitle of the essay is: About Living a Compassionate Life.
Maybe we need to take time, take stock, smell the roses, hear the birds sing, help an old lady with her groceries out to the car, hold the door for someone, mail your favorite charity a dollar or two. We all get caught up in the routine of living that we lose track—just like those fishes in his opening story: What the hell is water? That we forget that it is the ordinary that makes up the bones, the blood, the very humanness of life.
Commence and write an ode to the ordinary—what is your water? What is it that you need to pay attention to?
Congratulations Mike H. on your Master of Arts in Theological Studies
I love Bissell's work and this is also a great essay