This morning I listened to a commencement address given by David Foster Wallace
to Kenyon College's graduating class entitled "This Is Water". It starts with a story.
"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
David's speech was mentioned during a morning news segment about an upcoming movie called End of Tour
. I had jotted the title of the speech in my journal, along with the myriad of items on my "get back to list" - books I want to read, artists to pay attention to, movies worth watching, etc. and seeking some inspiration this morning, I decided to check it out.
I knew nothing about David Foster Wallace. Searching on google, I found the 22 minute speech and clicked go. I listened entralled, awestruck and started wondering: How I had missed David Foster? He is my brother, my spiritual soul mate. David! Where have you been? You get the big "It" and your explanation is exquisite. It's the something that is screaming inside me - "This is your life. Miraculous or meaningless - the focus is yours. What you pay attention to will shape your existence." This is water. Yes, the point is that "the important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about".
After falling in love, I had to know more about David. I found interviews with Charlie Rose, his books, and of course, the upcoming movie. Then I saw a date that had to be a mistake.
1962-2008, Wikipedia- David Foster Wallace. He committed suicide seven years ago at age 46.
The capital "T" Truth is about life before death. It is about . . . awareness 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." ~David Foster Wallace
Damn you David Foster Wallace! You gave up. You forgot the capital T truth. Damn you.
As I currently watch a friend in a life and death struggle with cancer, I am once again struck by life's ironies. Mostly I am pissed off. I feel cheated, yet I feel determined.
My own brother committed suicide the year after David died. He was 47. Depression also stole his ability to remember that we have water, the essential everything for survival, all around us.
For me the most resonant part of the speech is found in this quote.
Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles .... is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
I choose to believe in the inherent light that shines in every living being. This capacity for good is real and ever present. I choose to see it over and over. It's in the beauty of a smile, the miracle of breathing in and breathing out. It's in compassion. Paying attention is my practice. Some days it's harder than others. I too struggle with bouts of depression. There are days I want to rail against hatred and scream about disease, and injustice. On those days my practice is simply a prayer for the ease of suffering.
David, thank you for your inspirational brilliance, your clarity about "what is". I heard you and it was absolutely beautiful. You left a mark and I noticed. I'm not the only one. I wanted you to know that your light shines on. It's beauty never dies.
And those who love you will behold you across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying. ~from Recommendation, Thich Nhat Hanh
May all beings know peace. May I continue to pass it on.