On David Foster Wallace by Fellow Matt Pilsch '18

As the leaves fall and the winter chill sets in, I tend to become more introspective than usual. I like to wrap up in thick layers of clothes, put on some Bon Iver, and settle in with my thoughts.  After running through the list of things I meant to do outdoors while it was still warm, my brain caves to the constant nagging voice in the back of every 4th year’s head asking “what are you going to do next year?” Maybe I’ll move to a small town in France and work for a bakery and bake baguettes for a few years.  Maybe I’ll be a ski instructor in Wyoming.  Maybe it’s not too late to become a professional surfer (I have surfed once: was not good at it).

In our last gathering, the Horizons Fellows discussed, among other things, David Foster Wallace’s commencement address given to Kenyon College in 2005 that gives a powerful warning about the self-isolating lonerism that, I find, can accompany shorter, colder days. In the speech, Wallace warns against the worship of self that our world promotes. He says the default setting our culture instills in us is to chase wealth, comfort, and personal freedom: “the freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.” Especially in our last year of college as we make plans for next year and beyond, we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. I sit alone and plan my story, dream of my future successes, and imagine my world. Thinking about the future is when I am most tempted to design my own tiny skull-sized kingdom.

It’s easy and comfortable for us to remain in our imaginary worlds, making self-serving plans, but the real freedom, according to Wallace, comes from paying attention to what’s going on outside of ourselves and truly caring about and sacrificing for the people around us “in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” Wallace’s speech echoes Paul’s call for us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV). Wallace eloquently re-articulates the Biblical truth that joy comes by humbling ourselves and serving the people around us, despite our tendency to think more of our selfish ambition.

The fall is a beautiful time of year in and around Charlottesville and a great time to enjoy God’s creation in solitude and reflecting, planning, and discerning what the future may hold for us are important, especially leading up to the big transition. It is, however, important that in times of thoughtfulness, we don’t get lost thinking only of ourselves. Wallace’s speech is a reminder that in all my thinking about future plans, I don’t lose track of serving the people around me in the present. Any plans I make won’t come to fruition for a few months and I still have the opportunity to immerse myself here at UVa. As I plan and pray and discern what my life may be like next year, I need to consider the people who I will surround myself with and how I will be able to serve them. God’s kingdom is so much larger than the little world I imagine to be mine. As the Fellows look to the future, my prayer is that we’ll constantly be seeking to discern our place in God’s kingdom and not become lost in our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms.