The Matter of Prepositions
2458 words, about a 15 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, for, with. These and other prepositions we use every day. But do we consider their importance? Do we 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 cloudy day. There was someone else there with me as we stood at my friend's front door. One of us rang the doorbell. We were 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: hardwood floors, darkly-stained wainscoting, and high ceilings. Two or three others, also friends, were already there. But our hostess friend, the star of and reason for the gathering, had yet to appear.
A minute or two passed.
Then, all of a sudden, she rushed in. Her face was aglow, which was not unusual. But this time she was bursting with something more, something 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 they are, I think, typically overlooked. If considered at all, they are treated as if incidental, a filler. As if how things are related does not greatly impact what those things are. Who, besides possibly poets, writers, and grammarians, spends any time considering the words in, on, to, or by? I will admit that longer prepositions make more obvious statements: with, against, and beyond, for example, are often of some observed importance. Still, the tendency is to not pay even them much attention.
They are all "just" prepositions, after all.
No matter how big they are (and throughout is a big one), compared to nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs, how important 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. And what about 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 of us. Run, put, seem, know.
But prepositions? They are boring relators. They are just, well, there.
They have utility, sure. It would be difficult to live without them, I think you will agree. Rather like doors. Doors are useful but how often does one think about them? Wait a minute, I said to myself, as I followed the simile to its potential. A door can open to a whole new world...
Perhaps. Maybe what L. was getting to, all those years ago, when she busted in and told us the reason for her excitement, I thought, after L. busted in and told us the reason for her excitement, I have underestimated them.
I have since wondered if prepositions, if these often little and typically overlooked words, could not have 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. A silly example: do not run with scissors has a significantly different meaning than do not run to scissors. Prepositions show relationship. How something is connected/ has importance in comparison to another thing/ action.
You may be asking at this point, dear reader, does this grammarial jaunt have any practical importance to me? Could it? I think it might in at least the following circumstance.
I suggest you consider this: that the prepositions you use to connect with life tell/ inform you/ help you create/ form how you relate to your life. That they can significantly influence the quality of the life you live. That they hold insight to what you yourself believe, and reflect what you can give to others.
Here is the experiment I would like you to consider. It is a sentence. I ask you to apply, to choose, the preposition that best reflects what you believe about your life right now.
“Life is [insert your preposition of choice, the one that first comes to mind here] 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 the English language so you have lots to choose from).
These are ones that come to my mind right 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.
I have felt, and could find evidence to support, each of these sentences at different points in my life. Each reflects at least some of my life experience. The last two are my favorites, and are those which I work to operate from, and believe most. They are the ones I want to more and more live.
Life is for me.
Life is with me.
It has been a process to bring them into my life. Choosing to move toward them and live them has not been a one time event. They were choices I had to learn, decide, and act on.
In the past, when something I did not want to happen happened to me, I would, sometimes, for a period of time, fall into believing life is against me. (I am an optimistic person, usually; I see the glass not as half full but fully full. Full of the right amount of liquid that it is good to have right now. Sometimes, however, I am not so cheery and hopeful.) In some situations, looking only at the physical evidence, I very well may have been justified in the thinking that life is against me; 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 it do? Thinking life is against me never felt particularly good. Thinking or believing it did not improve my state of mind or my physical situation. It just gave me a reason to complain. I felt worse and worse whenever I thought that way, feeling sorry for myself. Self-pity, while perhaps at times understandable, is rarely, if ever, in my experience, helpful. Rarely useful. In that state, with that thinking, I would find myself becoming increasingly upset at the “obvious” injustice of life; of how other people were acting "against" me; at the clear and verifiable “wrongness” of the world at large. I lived the idea, for short periods of time, and it would became my then reality. Pretty much everywhere I looked, I saw and believed Life was against me; and any evidence otherwise I would throw out.
The result? I would in these times become angry. Occasionally, I would stoke the flames of poor me for a good long time. In doing that I would build a storehouse of rage, a shed really, at how I had been wronged, to keep alive my feelings of injustice. Though smiling on the outside, I was, on the inside, in a lot of hurt.
Trouble is, having a storehouse, or shed, for that matter and probably more accurately, packed with fury meant that was where I went when I wanted something to emotionally eat (if you will). It became, for short bundles of time, part of my usual belief system. Any holding, keeping, ingesting, fanning of anger led only to my having more anger.
It was not so good. Not so good for those around me, and not good for me.
Now, looking back, I see how changing the prepositions of one's life, how one relates to Life, makes a big difference. Here are some of my experiences and observations.
Life is against me. A belief which resulted in a storehouse of anger. Not doing me or others any good. Time to try some other way of thinking/ believing.
Life is on me. An improvement. Instead of Life being actively working against me, now I saw it largely as indifferent. It was going to happen whatever I did, whether I liked it or not. At least life did not hate me. But this thinking gave me a reason to give up. To pretend I was not a player in my own life, in Life. News flash: you make a difference in your life. We all do. We are all players. In the final analysis, anyone pretending they are not a player is trying to absolve themselves of responsibility/ opportunity. They are trying to play victim. As if they could not count.
Life is in me. "Well," I thought, "at least I am alive." By the time I got to this type of thinking, I had decided to allow the possibility of hope. I had previously tried, I realized looking back, unconsciously, to throw my life away. To deny the opportunities and responsibilities I had. To not productively use my gifts and talents. I did more than a couple of stupid things and took too many unnecessary risks. But life would not have it. Life would not have it. I would not have it. I stepped into the acceptance, then the relief, that I was alive; and that I was going to be alive for at least today, and possibly a long time ahead, so I might as well enjoy it. To in-joy it.
Life wanted me alive. I had the choice to live. How did I know that Life wanted me to live? Easy! Because I was conscious and alive, it wanted me to be. I wanted me to be.
The vast majority of us, I suspect, want to live, not, simply, to exist. I am reasonably sure you do, too, dear reader. You probably believe, at least somewhere inside of you, that your life can get better. Possibly, you also want to better add to the world. Otherwise, you would not be spending your time and using your mind to read this essay. To look into and think about this website.
Here is the magic I am suggesting to you, magic which we also consider normal and likely know works: you can change your perspective of life, you quality of life, by changing how you think about your life.
You can think differently. Betterly.
One way I have found that works is by changing one's prepositions.
As much as I can write about it, as much as someone can suggest it to you, no one can, in the final analysis, do this job for you. It is up to us, you and me, individually, dear reader. Others can help. I hope and intend to be helping with LukeyoutheU. Finally, though, it is an inside job. If you choose to accept the opportunity.
Life is within me. No matter how much or how little you have, how good or bad your health is, how much or little you have in the bank, how many friends you do or do not have, you have life. If you are breathing and reading and thinking about prepositions, you definitely have life. You have life within you. I offer you these beliefs: that Life is good, and that 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. Maybe you are until your last breath stuck in your current physical condition. But it can always get mentally better. You can think more helpful, useful, good thoughts. Follow them up with good actions, the actions you can take.
If you cannot, may I ask you to see if it is that you cannot or that you will not. May I suggest you go see a professional cognitive therapist. A good cognitive therapist can help to learn how to you reign in and 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 to breathe. When we are dead (and we are all going to one day be physically dead), 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. One is better.
You may also find yourself feeling and acting better towards others more often, and naturally.
You are not a worthless object even if you have felt like one, or even lived as one, at times in you past. You are a worthwhile human being (who is also an object) just as you are. You may decide that you can be worth even more to yourself and others. And act toward making yourself more helpful and useful.
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. Creates a virtuous cycle of good.
Difficult situations which may/ will arise are then 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. You will not be feeding your anger but rather your hope. 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 start small: to consider the prepositions of your life. It is the connection we decide to apply to the things, situations, and people of our lives which changes our relationships with them. Which changes us and them. Decide, and make, changes for good.
“Life is [insert preposition here] me.”
a LukeyoutheU essay
Marylander by birth
Californian since 1993
about Jake Knight