This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life, David Foster Wallace 2009
Wallace, one of the most creative, original, insightful, and entertaining writers of the last fifty years, made these remarks as the Commencement Speaker at Kenyon College in 2005, and they were published two years after his tragic suicide. In his usual iconoclastic way, Wallace challenged the graduates to not allow their default position to be the egocentric, dull march through the everyday of accumulating money, material possessions, power, etc. Rather, they should use their education to live more fully in the moment experiencing their inner life and being aware of “what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: this is water…It is unimaginably hard to do this—to live consciously, adultly, day in and day out.” Wise words delivered without the trite conventions of most commencement speeches, made especially sad by DFW’s inability to use his wise words to avoid the tragic sadness and outcome in in his own short life. At 137 pages, most of which have only one or two sentences, this is a very quick read and worth re-reading and contemplating the important message. I was especially moved by his urging to stop viewing the people all around us (i.e. in our way in traffic, at the check out counter, etc) in stereotypical negative fashion but to realize that everyone has a story and most of us are doing the best we can. Everyone is waging a great battle and being tuned in to others gets us out of our own heads and leads to compassion, and ultimately a better world. Worth heeding.