Choosing the Given

Something in me believes that good books are forever. 

There is something about posts, tweets, and videos that promises to last as long as an honest politician or a Hollywood marriage. 

This evening I was reading an essay by Annie Dillard entitled “Living Like Weasels” and came across this extraordinary passage:

The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.

The background context of the statement concerns how Annie was looking into the water in a pond in Virginia, when suddenly a weasel shot up from under a downed log in the water. Their eyes met. They both were stunned at the otherness of the other. Then, just as quickly, it was over. And all that was left for Annie was trying to make sense of the exchange. 

Then she expresses a longing: “choosing the given . . .” I love that. Choosing the given. 

There’s a worldview implied in that—namely, that we can choose to understand, appreciate, and share the truth and beauty of what is given, or we can amuse ourselves to death via distractions. No one will stop you. If you want to live your life in front of a screen, you’ve arrived. Behold your god. 

And there is at least one other application in her phrase about choosing the given. Life is, the world is, the sunrise today is, the moon’s glow is, the sound of the birds is, the smile of your children is, in sum, given. It is all to be received with thanksgiving because it is just that: a gift. Gift upon gift upon gift. 

1 Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, (New York: HarperCollins, 1982), 68-69. 

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