David Foster Wallace’s speech to the 2005 graduates of Kenyon College, “This is Water,” has been reprinted in part on the web, set in part to music and video on youtube, and is now published and available on Amazon. The speech is the impetus for today’s post.
In my dream this morning, I was wearing my prom dress and carrying Mom. The other elements of the dream are too boring… when I woke it was to this one arresting image of myself in my prom dress, which Mom had made, carrying her. The sense I had of it was that of being able to go back and do it again.
It, of course, is her dying. I was 26 when she died, so 24 when she first got sick. Impossibly young. And so self-absorbed; this is where DFW’s speech comes in. My mom’s dying was something happening to ME, and I wish I could go back and make it about her. I wish I could’ve carried her, as in my dream; I wish I could’ve honored her more.
But that was life, that was the water in which I swam, unaware that you get just the one pass through, the one attempt, no do-overs, no mulligans, and that the best movie of my life very often will not star me.
Which is why it’s important to be as conscious as possible right now. How is the water in which I swim now? The minutes tick by as I pay bills and clean the toilet and prepare another grilled cheese and drive 35 minutes to work. It’s not a question: “Is this living?” Rather, it’s a statement: “This is living.” This is life, this early Saturday morning, this list of chores (“library, K-Mart, Hummer’s for chz, make PB pie”), this cup of coffee, this cat Grim needing attention. This is my water, and not paying heed to this minutiae is like holding my breath.
This is not to say that I should be content, but rather, simply, aware. Life is rooted in its context: of other people and their experiences, of the demands of daily life, of the learning curves and the million endless bits of patience required to live a day, days, weeks, months, decades! And it zips by just that fast.
How often I say, if I can just make it: to the weekend, through the end of school, until husband’s schedule changes, past this heat wave, beyond this stressful time at work…. but, what about NOW, what about this minute, this boring or hard fragment? Is this not life? Is this not water, no matter the stagnancy temperature clarity or color–?