This weekend I’ve been swimming
in the details. Sometimes even when life is really good, it can still be
overwhelmingly transactional. This seems true whether you are a parent or not,
but it felt particularly true these past few days as little tired humans wrung
out from pools and BBQs and late summer nights needed more and more of me.
It wasn’t their fault. They are
young and tired. Their patience is short and they get cold and hungry and hot
and thirsty and itchy and sad and bored. I understand. I am feeling all of that
too, while I carefully maneuver their transactional minefield littered with
delicate young feelings and fragments of my frayed patience. I tend, I kiss, I
cook, I clean, I tuck.
This morning we decided to
venture off to a state park we’d never tried before which promised waterfalls
and a small lake to swim in and a little beach area and picnicking: a new spot
to enjoy one of the finest days that summer had to offer. But there were
bottles to make and a beach bag to pack and a cooler to fill and where are the
chairs and do we have food for the cooler? And so for two and a half hours
straight I ran around like a mad woman looking for cold cuts and sunscreen and
swim shirts and diapers.
By 11:30 we’d cobbled together
what we needed for the world’s briefest roadtrip. For the 20 minutes in the
car, I casually sipped gingerale and bit my tongue, trying not to snap at the
next person who asked me for more air, or less air, or more radio or no radio
or a snack or a bathroom or directions. Because honestly, it’s not them, it’s
And all the while I was sipping
and breathing and muttering to myself: this is water.
It’s a reference from a speech
I’d read given by the late author and essayist David Foster Wallace at the
Kenyon College commencement back in 2005. Titled “This is Water,”
(which you can read HERE) the speech was later published as a book by
the same name (there is also a youtube video you can WATCH). In it, Wallace argues that all of our
collective “default” settings in life are to just hum through hard and detail
and transaction and just stay bogged in it, dead to perspective, to what is
real, to what matters. As Wallace describes: “… the real value of a real
education… has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with
simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in
plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding
ourselves over and over: ‘This is water."
Wallace argues that the real work
of life isn’t exciting and can sometimes and often times be monotonous, but
sometimes that is all of the stuff of life and if you think of it as anything
less than the holy work it is, than you will spend the rest of your life
angrily sipping gingerale missing this amazing picture perfect blue sky day
with your family who will never again have this moment, this day, this place in
time together. You will miss it. You will get stuck in the garbage-y minutiae
that you think is what all of “it” is really all about and in doing so you will
miss all of it. You will miss this life.
We arrived at the park and piled
out. There was more schlepping and changing, lugging the stroller onto the
banks of the sand; slathering of sunscreen and sticky fingers and bathing
suits. And then there were giggles and splashing. Dylan found a tadpole. Ruby
practiced her swimming. The baby needed me, she needed to be held. Unable to
settle, I scrambled out and back in to the water, one hand under the baby, the
camera around my neck. There was lunch and someone wanted peanut butter, turkey
but no mustard, more pretzels. I sat at the edge of the lake and passed and
sorted and chewed while Hope sat peacefully on my lap, squishing her little fat
toes in the wet sand.
This is water, I thought.
This is water.