The Matter of Prepositions
12 min read
The way things are related, how we see and believe them to be related, matters: I submit to you, dear reader, that prepositions have great power.
To, from, by, with, for. These and other prepositions we use every day. But do we consider their importance? Use them wisely?
I was introduced to the significance of prepositions many years ago, when on a visit to a friend in Boston. I recall it being a temperate and cloudy day, and that there was someone else with me, the other person having come with me or arriving at my friend's front door at the same time. I am embarrassed to say I do not remember who. We were quickly buzzed in, and climbed the stairs up to the main living area of the second-floor flat. The living space had plenty of old-world charm: darkly-stained wainscoting, high ceilings, and hardwood floors. Two or three others, also friends, were already there. But our hostess friend was not. A minute or two passed. And then, all of a sudden, she rushed in. Her face was aglow (which, in my experience, it often was). She was bursting with something, though, that she found extra exciting, I could tell. I wanted to know, probably all of us did, what was causing her exceptional liveliness.
She surprised us (well, me at least) by talking about the preposition in. About how great it is. About how important it is. About how such a small word, here she held her thumb and index finger close together to indicate tininess, can make a very big difference.
I had not before actively considered the importance of relationship words: this was the start of prepositional awareness for me. Thank you, L., for many things, including introducing me to the power of prepositions.
Prepositions are usually short words, and, I think, usually overlooked. As if they are incidental or merely filler. Who, besides possibly some grammarians, has spent time considering the words in, on, to, or by? I will admit that longer prepositions do make more of an obvious statement: with, against, and beyond, for example. Still, the tendency is to not pay them much attention. They are "just" prepositions, after all. No matter how big they are (throughout is a big one) how important, in the abstract, can they be? One uses prepositions, certainly, and knows what they mean, but how could they be that important that my friend got all flushed? It is not like they are the subject of a sentence, or the verb. They have utility, yes, but what do they have compared to nouns, especially proper nouns? Nouns are solid and often specific; nouns we can point to and almost always agree on. A chair, a throne, the throne of England. Or verbs? Clearly verbs are important. They are engaging words, full of external action or internal feeling: there is an inborn excitement in motion, be it outside or inside us. Run, put, seem, know.
But prepositions? They are plain Jane connectors. They are just, well, there.
Prepositions have utility, sure. It would be difficult to live without them, I will agree. Kind of like doors. Doors are useful but how often do I think about them? Wait a minute, I said to myself as I followed the simile. A door can be the opening to a whole new world...
I wonder if prepositions, if these often little and typically overlooked words, do not serve a mighty and important role in life. A preposition, after all, demonstrates how the speaker/ writer/ song composer/ poet/ thinker/ person in the inside of her head believes objects are connected to other objects. How verbs relate with things. Don't run to scissors has a very different meaning than Don't run with scissors. Prepositions show what the relationship of something/ some action is with another thing/ action.
So what has this grammarial jaunt got to do with you, dear reader? A big deal, in at least one circumstance.
I suggest this: that the prepositions you use to connect with life tell/ inform you/ help you create/ form how you relate to your life. They significantly influence the quality of the life you live. What you yourself have, and can give to others.
Here is the sentence I would like you to consider. I ask you to apply, to choose the preposition that best reflects what you believe about your life right now.
“Life is [insert preposition] me.”
Go ahead. Think of prepositions and put them in. Options include: beyond, to, on, against, of, through, in, within, for, with. (There are about 150 prepositions in English. These are ones that come to my mind now.)
Life is beyond me.
Life is happening to me.
Life is against me.
Life is on me.
Life is because of me.
Life is through me.
Life is in me.
Life is within me.
Life is for me.
Life is with me.
As for me, I choose the last two understandings/ beliefs:
Life is for me.
Life is with me.
In the past, when something I did not want to happen happened, I often fell into believing life is against me. In some situations, looking only at the physical evidence, I very well may have been justified in that thinking; nine out of ten people may have agreed I was "right." I am sure I could find evidence, that I did find evidence that, in my life at that time, life was against me.
But what good did that do? Thinking life is against me did not feel good. It also did not move me into a better situation. Frequently, I would just felt worse and worse whenever I thought that way. I would begin to feel sorry for myself. Self-pity, while perhaps at times understandable, is rarely, if ever, in my experience, useful. In that state, with that thinking, I found myself becoming increasingly upset at the “obvious” injustice of other people toward me. The clear and verifiable “wrongness” of the world at large. Had the idea that life was against.
The result? I remained angry for a good long time. I built a storehouse of anger of how I had been “wronged.” Often smiling on the outside, inside I was a lot of hurt.
Trouble is, having a storehouse of anger means that is where I would go if I wanted something to eat. Holding, keeping anger usually led only to my having more anger. Not so good for people, not anyone. Least of all me.
Changing the prepositions of my life made a big difference. The progression, made over months and years (it need not take nearly so long for you) went something like this:
Life is against me. A belief which resulted in a storehouse of anger.
Life is on me. Life is going to happen whether I like it or not. A reason to give up.
Life is in me. "Well," I thought, "I am alive." I have tried, unconsciously, in the past, to throw my life away by doing stupid things. But life would not have it. I would not have it. I pulled back into the acceptance, then the relief, that I was going to be alive for as long as I was alive so I might as well enjoy it. That life wanted me to live. How did I know that life wanted me to live? Easy! I was alive.
The vast majority of us, I suspect, want to live. Certainly you, dear reader, do. You believe, at least somewhere inside of you, that your life can get better. Otherwise, you would not be reading this essay.
We can think differently. You can think differently. We can change our prepositions. You can change your prepositions. We can do things to improve the experience we have, day by day, and that others have, day by day, of and in life.
Nobody else though, finally, can do the job for us. Not totally. It is up to us, you and me, individually, dear reader. Others can help. I hope and intend to be helping here. Finally, though, it is an inside job.
Life is within me. No matter how much or how little you have, you have life. If you are breathing and reading and thinking about the prepositions in your life, you have life within you. Life is good and it can always get better, in some fashion or way, as long as we are alive. If may or may not be able to get physically better, perhaps not right now or ever. But it can always get mentally better. We can think more helpful and useful thoughts.
If you cannot, go see a cognitive therapist. A good cognitive therapist can help you reign in and learn to discipline your thoughts. If you really cannot, cannot, can not think differently, or will not, you have made your choice. You are, in a way, marking time. Time until your physical body ceases in its current state. When we are dead (and we are all headed that way), there is not much to worry about, is there. That is when one really cannot think (or act) differently.
But that is not your case.
Right now, in this instant, there is life within you. Use it. Live it.
Life is for me. Life is with me. Once one gets to this level of understanding, once one gets to this belief, once one chooses and decides that life is for me: Wow! Then great things can and do happen. Mostly on the inside, where it is most important. Increasingly, I find, on the outside, too. One feels better. You are not a worthless object even if you have felt like one at times in you past. You are a worthwhile human being (who is also an object) who can be worth more. To yourself and others.
Thinking better about oneself, using the more useful prepositions, helps one to be kinder to oneself and to others. Which helps oneself and others to act more kindly toward oneself and toward others. It is the creation of a virtuous cycle of potentially ever-increasing good.
Difficult situations which may/ will arise are faced with hope. And hope can turn the tide.
By thinking this way, that life is for me, life is with me, you will build up a storehouse of saying yes to life. Develop the habit of creating and living in good. Of believing life is good and thereby helping to make it objectively so.
Dear reader, I ask you to consider the prepositions of your life. It is the connection we decide to apply to the things, situations, relationships, people of our lives which changes our relationship with them. Decide, and make, changes for your obvious good.
Against, to, for, with or some other preposition.
“Life is [insert preposition here] me.”
a LukeyoutheU essay
Marylander by birth
Californian since 1993
about Jake Knight