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David Foster Wallace and the Matter of Choice

May 14, 2013

As an adult I’ve seen the saying “It’s the small things in life” applied heavily to the ins-and-outs of my days.  Things like waking up and  having 20 mins to lay in bed, no traffic on my often-frustrating commute, and an extra-yummy lunch that I’ve prepared the night before really iron out the wrinkles in my day.

Young woman hitting the snooze button

I’ve really come to appreciate my morning routine when I first sit down and hit the “in” button in my office.  I grab a steaming cup of coffee and hear the crinkling of ice in my water, gulping down the amazing provider of refreshment.  I slowly sip on my coffee and eat my cinnamon and vanilla oatmeal as I cruise through my blog reader in search of relevant and interesting content as it pertains to my company’s industry.  While  the content tends to be repetitive and somewhat inapplicable to my job, there are occasions when I stumble upon nuggets of gold that can stop me in my tracks and make me say “whoa.”

Last week, I, along with 4 million others, saw David Foster Wallace’s words come to life in production company The Glossary’s video “This is water”

As I began to hear the words that Wallace candidly spoke at Kenyon College’s commencement 8 years ago unfold to a portrait of the typical frazzled nine-to-fiver in a grocery store, my brainwaves and heartstrings began to come alive. I’ve been coming to terms with my entrance into adulthood, and watching this video articulates perfectly the anquish I’ve been experiencing for the past few months.

But really, anybody whose anybody and works  40 hours or more a week can accurately paint the picture of the drudgery and monotony of our daily lives.

Wallace, however, proves his sage-like status by offering a solution.

Take a look at the video below and open your heart and mind to the words and propositions of “This is water.”

Update: It appears that the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust does not give permission for the video to be shared.  Bummer.

But you can also check out quotes from his speech here.

It’s really hard for me to pick just one highlight, but perhaps what was most evident to me was how much Wallace’s philosophy on life ties in with the purpose of a Christian life and making decisions to become more like Christ. For the record, Wallace clearly states that this isn’t about religion, but I’ll have to throw in a big wrench into that wheel of anti-spirituality.

The topical word is choice.

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
That is real freedom.
That is being taught how to think.
The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” — the constant, gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”

God gave human’s a choice:to follow Him or put themselves as the center of the universe. We make the  conscious decision to become more Christ-like with each and every decision we make, from opening the door for a slow-moving elderly lady to not talking badly about our coworker in the cafeteria. Wallace echoes this fundamental Christian tenet by saying that we experience “real freedom” by not caring so much about ourselves and our stupid, petty problems and look for opportunities to really care and love.

The main takeaway for those with secular leanings is that if we continue living life with our heads down, we are just miserable, lifeless creatures, waiting for our time to end and to start pushing up daisies.

Though I’ve heard this vitally important message on numerous occasions from my parents, pastors, and mentors, I think it was the timing that made this lesson stick.  To make our days less ordinary and more fulfilling of life’s purpose, we absolutely MUST stop thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe and see that it is a relationship with God and humanity that will make us see water for what it is.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2013 1:00 am

    Great reflection.

    Personally, I’m not a big fan of “choice”. I would rather focus on how we are “chosen” and the best response is grateful service. But, I suppose that’s a choice in itself, huh?

    • May 14, 2013 1:09 am

      Thanks Tony. It took me a minute to realize that you are not referring to the pre-elect. Really good perspective there.

      • May 14, 2013 1:18 am

        The verse I had in mind was “We love, because God first loved us.” I think it’s important in a culture where human choice is idolized that we keep in mind that we couldn’t choose anything unless God had first chosen us… for creation, for redemption, for resurrection.

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