Overuse of the Verb To Be

before the race
Good writers use a variety of specific and vivid verbs to avoid repetition …

 

Recently my colleague, Jane, suggested that we think of people as “doers rather than things.” She wrote that if we can make this change we allow people to move on, to be something other than a “static” idea. And this week I’m struggling to embrace her ideas – I struggle to see myself and my family as a “work in progress.”

Over a year ago I wrote about the Boston Marathon bombing; I wrote about the strength and purpose that I find in running long distances outside. In that same blog post I complained about an injury and admitted to grumpiness. I concluded that I could live without running and that I’d get over being grumpy, but that I loved being a runner. I recovered enough to spend thirty straight days in the back country that summer. I carried a heavy pack for over a hundred miles and I felt strong. After I came out of the mountains, I ran three long trail races and worked-out harder than I ever have. I was a runner.

Turns out I was also blissfully unaware. As I amped up my training time I also collected nagging injuries, nothing serious – just tight this and tender that. I ignored my aches and pains and kept running. I suppose I was the only one surprised by my eventual inability to train. Last June, I completed a half-marathon thanks to a generous injection of steroids and gritted teeth. I haven’t been able to run more than a few miles since then. Not running makes me feel like I want to gnaw my arm off.
It’s not that I can’t exercise. The problem is that I’d begun to think of myself as a runner. Now I just make excuses. I feel the obnoxious need to explain myself, to reassure innocent bystanders that I am, in fact, a runner.

The thing is I also claim to be a writer and a teacher and a mother. Until recently I didn’t see the potential danger of these characterizations. I was proud and certain of the descriptions. I wore them around like armor, flashing them to prove my competence. I’m not sure who I thought was paying attention.

Most of us feel a genuine need to know who people are – we naturally seek common ground, or at least understanding. So we ask people, “Who are you?” “What do you do?” And most of us curate our “I am” responses. We present our best selves and edit for context. So what happens when our go-to-answers are out of reach?

One of my best friends likes to remind me that experiences make people happier than the things they buy. She read this somewhere and she has become an ambassador of “experience happiness.” Instead of buying toys and gadgets, she’s builds elaborate experience gifts for her family and makes beautiful photographs of their adventures so that it’s easy to remember the fun. I think I’d rather collect fun than categories. I’d rather remember the experience of running a race, than lament the bygone notion that I am a runner.

In some ways mothers are always mothers, writers are always writers, but at least right now in the middle of pre-teen parenting chaos, two full-time jobs, and hunting season most static identities feel too big. The categories are hard to leave behind, but change is essential to being human. Accepting that my self-imposed characterizations aren’t helpful and that they do change, should be empowering. It is at the very least inevitable; we are all works in progress. So today I will do some teaching, some parenting, and maybe even some writing. And if I’m lucky, in time I will do some running. Or maybe I will buy a road bike. Or start swimming. In any case, my focus will evolve. Right now I cannot be a runner, but I can seek experience. And change. And progress. I can always be a seeker.

~ Sarah

The Song of the Ungirt Runners

We swing ungirded hips,
And lightened are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.

The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
‘Neath the big bare sky.

The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.

 

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