Do You Appreciate Your Time in the Water of Life?
There are two young fish swimming along who happen to meet an older fish. The older fish nods at them and says, “Morning boys, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks, “What the hell is water?” — David Foster Wallace.
I recently rediscovered this fable when I stumbled upon David’s 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College. He says the point of the story is that often the most important realities are the hardest to see and the hardest to talk about.
What ideas does the parable bring to mind for you? As I think about the fish, I envision that the fish’s water is like our own human experience. We’re surrounded by this life with its experiences, adventures, and challenges, but we’re so busy “swimming” along, immersed in our day-to-day busyness, that we forget to appreciate it. Our life is such an obvious reality that we take it for granted.
Since David is speaking to a college graduating class, he ties his point to education. He says education is not so much about knowledge as it is about how to think. “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from the experience.“
I don’t know about you, but I sure could have used that kind of education when I was younger. I hope others don’t have to wait until they’re in their 40s or 50s before they realize the importance of how to think and what to think about!
A few years after this speech, David took his own life. Does that mean he failed and we shouldn’t listen to his advice? Or does it mean he truly knew what it meant to be human and to struggle to enjoy his time in the water?
This week, try to be aware of the “water” all around you and find more moments to appreciate this amazing experience of being human, of experiencing peace and stress, enthusiasm and melancholy, gratitude and frustration. It’s all part of our time in the “water.”