Sunday, July 6, 2014

Water

Details.

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 me.

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.