What The Hell Is Water?

“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 Foster Wallace addressing the graduating class at Kenyon College, 2005

What are we bathed in? What have we always been bathed in which is so close and central to our existence that we simply cannot experience it? What do we swim against?

I have a guess. It is predicated on the possibility of finding what is around us by identifying what we build away from. Call it identity through antithesis.

I am still not over the ride home I took from work when I was seventeen and sure I would never again see a friend whom I adored. A part of me is still at home 1800 miles away in New York. I am fascinated by the carvings and music we’ve shot into space as a signal to aliens of our existence. Earlier today I couldn’t clear my head of a Rod Stewart song from the 90s.

We build monuments and manifestos for wars, and signings, and dead people, and explorers. Our holidays are about remembrance, our political debates about other times. All of our science is based on previous experiments and distant galaxies. In short, we are there, and we are then. We chastise children for not thinking of consequences and futures, and consider adulthood as being wise, and well-storied, and prepared. It is everywhere.

Well, everywhere but here.

Perhaps what we swim in, what we marinade in, what sustains us is this moment. The moment, rather than a three dimensional world, plus time, a one dimensional world, sans time. The water of nowness.

I have my senses. And they are present. Very few things make the then and there go away quite as well as stubbing a toe, or crashing a car, or an orgasm. What is now is this carpet, these keys, the weight of the ring on my finger. My wife is upstairs. My family’s in Buffalo. Who knows where all the friends I adore exist? As I remember them, likely, they live only in my memory.

But nowness. The sound of the dishwasher. The hiss of the fireplace. The light, unending buzz in my ears that fills the cracks of emptiness. A smudge on my glasses. Floaters just in front of my eyes. Every meditation involves breathing. Breathing is here and now.

A man walks up to another man and quips, “Morning. How’s the nowandhere?”

It’s the only place we’ve ever been.



A day is not done, until it's filled with words.

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