David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech given at Kenyon College in 2005 is one of my favorites. It’s entitled “This is Water” and a beautiful excerpt of it can be found below in this YouTube video. When I am feeling overwhelmed, lost in the busyness of my day, or just plain fed up, I watch this video, and it brings me back from the brink, every single time. Please take the eight minutes and watch it before reading further…trust me, it’s worth it.
This is water…this is water….some days it’s my mantra. Life can be challenging; life can be banal. Day in and day out, there are responsibilities we have as parents, as partners, as friends and family members, as well-adjusted members of society. Responsibilities that move us through our days in automatic ways, barely noticing the minutes and hours passing by, until the end of the day is reached, and we wonder where it has gone. We wonder why we didn’t get those five things done on our To-Do list, while at the same time how we managed to finish ten other things that day. In today’s world, our lives are filled with demands, busyness, and distractions. Sometimes distractions of our choosing, our failed attempts to disconnect and tune out, looking for peace. But distractions never reveal those longed for moments of grace; they push us further into the automacy of life.
What David Foster Wallace talks about so eloquently in his speech is that all of it is water….all of is life. We are swimming in it every day. Whether it’s an ordinary day, one of basic existence, or an extraordinary one, filled with celebration or a special occasion, it’s all the same. It’s all water…this is water. Viewing your life through the lens of “this is water” changes how you pay attention, how you think and view each of the moments of your life. Do you see them as chores or choices? Do you view them as beautiful opportunities for connection and growth or as society pressing on you with demands and needs? Can they begin as one, and when you pay attention, become another? Can you view each one as sacred and precious, even the hard ones?
I know for me. When I choose the sacredness of every moment, when I breathe into the moment, bringing my full attention, and choose what I am going to think about that moment, it changes everything. Can I see the flat tire I didn’t know how to change, as an opportunity for learning? This happened to me last week. When the AAA mechanic showed up, instead of being angry and frustrated and thinking of all the ways this was impacting my day, I breathed into it…this is water. The young mechanic was kind and patient, and took the time to teach me how to change a tire on the spot. I left feeling grateful and empowered. How did my response change his day? Was it nice to be greeted by someone grateful to see him, accepting of the moment and willing to learn, rather than a pissed off distracted soul standing by the side of the road on her phone, barely acknowledging his presence? I wanted to hug him when he left but instead shook his hand, looked deep into his eyes and said thank you. This is water.
Can you remember “this is water” when…
You walk into your teenage son’s room, and can barely see the floor, covered with a week’s worth of clothes. Then remember he’s had two papers, a test, and four soccer games this week. This is water.
A friend cancels on you at the last minute for dinner when you were looking forward to a night out. Can you see this as the gift of a wide open evening that you can fill with anything you like? This is water.
You are sitting at the hospital with a loved one, tired and weary to the bones, waiting for some good news and afraid it’s not coming. Can you breathe into the worry and tiredness, and acknowledge the strength that keeps you there, offering love and support? This is water.
Your partner does that thing that drives you crazy and no matter how many requests you make, it never changes. Can you recognize it as an opportunity for patience and further communication, or perhaps simply acceptance and peace? This is water.
A busy day, leaves you going through the drive thru for dinner on the way home. Can you be kind to yourself and notice sitting down to talk with your family over dinner (even if it’s from a bag), feeds your soul more than an hour spent in the kitchen cooking? This is water.
The good…the bad…the hard…the easy. This is water. We are swimming in it every day. For fish, the movement of water through their gills gives them life. As water passes through the gills, oxygen is removed, it’s how they breathe. Take a fish out of water and it dies. Our lungs don’t operate like gills, but can we feel the water around us, remove the life-giving pieces and see the gifts they bring.
This is water, asks us to see ordinary as extraordinary. To choose sacred…holy…precious. To choose paying attention…being present. In those moments, those challenging moments when life feels hard, when you are tired and drained, and can’t seem to find the sacredness in a given moment, take a deep breath and silently chant…this is water, this is water.