I can tell you the day that I felt most alive this year. June 8th. It was a Sunday. I can tell you the moment:
I am untying my shoes, taking off my shorts and t-shirt, setting down my backpack and camera. Making a little pile of simple belongings. I am sitting down on a sun-hot dock and dipping my toes into a lake in Slovenia. A lake surrounded by mountains, filled by run-off water from the Alps, overlooked by Bled Castle, dotted by a tiny island, dotted by a tiny church. This is Lake Bled.
The water is an insane blue. Laffy Taffy blue. Smurfette blue. Virgin Mary blue. None of those is quite it. It’s like I have never seen blue until I’ve seen this water. “Oh, this is blue” blue. The Platonic Form Blue. You think I’m exaggerating.
This is Lake Bled, and I’m tired from walking around it to reach this point. I’m hot, and now I’m in my bathing suit, and now I’m in the water. And it’s sublime. The water is crystal clear and warm on the surface and crisp cool at the depth of my toes. Instantly I’m aware of the blueness and the coolness and the warmth. I’m aware of the mountains and the water, the castle, the sky. I swim out toward the island, and as I leave the shore, staring at the church on the island, I leave the sound of everything except my movements in the water. It’s quiet and warm and cold, bright and clear. It’s perfection in a way I wouldn’t think possible. And I lay on my back in the slick water. I rest in it. Aware that this is a moment. Somehow knowing right then, that this is the moment of my year. Perhaps, one of those moments of my entire life. Eventually I swim back to the dock.
In a year in which I graduated from college, moved home, took trips, held interviews, attended parties, and weddings, ran races, bought things, read things, ate things, thought things, loved things it is this moment that I’m most attached to still.
One of my favorite messages is David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College. He opens with the story of one fish meeting another and asking, “How’s the water?” The second fish replies, “What the hell is water?” The point is that we don’t recognize what we’re amidst. We have no idea the most obvious, meaningful things because we are busy swimming, and striving, and hating, and worrying.
Wallace ends with the brilliant words, “The capital-T Truth is about life before death… It is about simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: ‘This is water, this is water.’ It is so unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.”
After June 8th, I tie these words and that experience together. Lake Bled was the literal “this is water” moment. Floating on the blueness was absolute Truth. The Blue in itself was True. There was no thought in that moment, because everything was in that moment. It was life, pure.
Our whole lives tell us to drive. Parents, schools, colleges, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, siblings. They tell us to achieve, achieve, achieve. We are supposed to get the job, do the work, make the money, buy the things, give the things, take the things, steer our life, hit the milestones, have all the fun, all the pain, all the accomplishment. It’s supposed to be hard, and we’re supposed to be happy, and we’re supposed to collapse into bed exhausted each night. We live for the boss, or the Internet, the social media, the friends, the church, the kids, the economy. We have responsibilities and grocery lists. We have Facebook notifications and full inboxes. We have text threads and Netflix subscriptions. We have so much, and these are blessings indeed.
After June 8th, I got out of the water, and I went on with life. I did all those things for all those people. I was happy and busy, sometimes overwhelmed, sometimes bored. I thought about jobs and success and appearances. But, I felt most alive, floating, unmoving – just being present. I felt most alive when I thought, “This is water.”
What is life about except life? Shouldn’t we know how we live most alive? What makes us tap into those big Truth moments? Shouldn’t we know what our Blueness is? I want more June 8ths.
I do not want to preach. I do not want to sound superior or debased because I floated in a lake. I do not want to stop doing things, stop achieving or being successful. I do not want to give away all of my possessions, or abandon the digital world. Far from it. But I do want to find other lakes. I do want more floating amidst the swimming. I want a balance of the two, and an awareness of both.
I think we should stop trying so hard. I think we should be. Let’s rest for a minute. A moment. Or let’s try to expand those Blueness moments into minutes, into hours, and days, and months. The poet Rumi writes, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” I want to be in the business of thinking “this is water.” I want to create Blueness. I want to learn how to color.
So, 2014, you put me at the lake. You dipped my toes in the water. You whispered in my temples, “This is water. This is beauty. This is presence.” And, 2015, I do not want to forget it. I want to spread it. I do not want to give up social media, or high-paying jobs, or vacuuming. These things are the real deal, too. I just don’t want to be afraid to float. I don’t want to worry about people saying, “What’s she doing out there?” I want them to join me.
As Tyler Knott Gregson asks, I ask too:
you will not spend
so much time
and trying to keep your
head above the waves
that you forget,
how much you have always
I wish you a new year filled with water and Blueness, with success and striving, treading and swimming and floating. Most though, I wish you peace and wellness. Presence and joy. I wish you lakes and rivers of life.