The “be” verb is powerful.
Walking due west, he looked up into the sunset. The golden light suffused the clouds on this cold winter’s day. He tucked his hands deeper into the pocket of his jacket. Traffic whizzed by him, but he was oblivious to the sound, so he walked on. As he did, he gazed up at the great big ball of light suspended behind those clouds, peeling them away in his mind with diligent pursuit. He began to think about the force of nature that holds the sun in its own unclaimed space and time, and the planet from upon which he was viewing it.
The earth itself was the catalyst for his experiencing, in that moment, the majesty of knowing that the same force that keeps this gigantic ball in its orbit was no different than the force that keeps the machine that is his body pumping blood throughout, chamber to chamber, extremity to extremity. This machine kept him breathing, allowing him this opportunity to be walking in the direction of this celestial object, as if to meet up with it and rendezvous with it like two loyal old friends. Because, after all, he and the fireball were one. They were connected by source, him and the sun. And then he realized, in that moment, that he had no question about what keeps the earth turning; what maintains its faithful elliptical orbit around the sun. Because he knew (he had) the answer.
It’s a word. A simple word.
In English, our verbs are conjugated, which means that their endings change to maintain grammatically in respect of number, person and tense. Think subject-verb agreement. For example, we would not say I are happy. That verb, like all verbs, has a conjugation. Therefore, we say, I am happy.
There are some other possible conjugations wherein we simply inflect the ending of the verb in a predictable way, as opposed to changing it entirely (a fact which renders any such conjugation irregular). But regardless of how we conjugate a verb, the word always morphs into (it becomes) another word altogether to reflect the number of its subject; whether the subject is a first, second or third person; and whether the tense is a form of the present or the past. (Note that the present tense and the past tense are the main tenses in English.) He laughs. They laugh. Many laugh. Both laugh. I laugh. Either of the boys laughs. (Yes, informally we use a plural verb after either, but formality dictates that inflection upholds this indefinite pronoun as a singular word.)
We have now established a particular norm or regularity in English, namely the conjugation of verbs. But as any speaker of English has not too long after starting to write or speak it realizes, there are exceptions: the irregular verbs. So what about those verbs whose complete form and structure instead of their endings (inflections) change to maintain grammaticality? We are back to those irregular verbs, which means that their conjugations are irregular: Today I run a race. Yesterday I ran a race. Today I drink wine. Yesterday I drank wine. In these examples, you neither runned* the race or drinked* the wine. You see the pattern. Which now brings us to the verb is.
If someone asked you to define the meaning of is, could you? You may be able to or you may not, but I will here for the purposes of illustration and this article. According to Merriam-Webster, is means to be, which means to subsist or to have existence. The latter is the infinitive form of the word, otherwise known as the uninflected dictionary definition (preceded by to), while the former is the inflected form, conjugated for the first person or the singular personal pronoun, the indefinite pronouns (i.e., it, either, etc.) and the present tense. When to be is conjugated, you get am/are, was/were, and be/been, as in has/have/had been.
What I hope that had been established so far is the immutable fact that written, and verbal, language is communication. But English is difficult and complex, what with its idioms, syntax and homonyms. As far as communication is concerned, I hope you will agree that it is not limited to the engagement or two-way flow between you and someone else. Indeed, communication extends to that which we invariably hold with or within ourselves.
For example, in fiction writing, which I happen to have an affinity for, this internal communication is called unspoken discourse, which is an internally vocalized thought. You may have come across such thoughts embedded in narration, although marked off from the surrounding text with italics. This is a method that the author may choose to employ to draw a reader’s attention to the fact that a thought so expressed is indeed internal. (It could also prevent confusion as to who is responsible for the thought. But most importantly, in such contexts, italics tells the reader that a thought belongs to the focalized or point-of-view character.)
I was that point-of-view character introduced at the beginning of this article, and I took the liberty of writing from the third-person point of view. I was watching that sunset. And that answer I had—for I had realized I had no questions—was the word is.
I realized that the sun was in its position in the sky. In fact, it was in its rightful place in the Milky Way Galaxy. It was also in its deferential power as a source of light and energy. But it was also just there, and by design. Another fact is that the sun is. (I have dispensed with the sequence of tenses rule here because the sun is and it has been, now and forever.)
Nothing more, nothing less.
The lyrics of a famous 1998 song expresses the sentiment of the “be” verb:
Everything is everything
What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually—”Everything Is Everything” by Lauryn Hill
Is. Everything is everything. Be. Let everything be everything. That’s storytelling. Storytelling communication.
January 30, 2021
Revised March 5, 2022No tags for this post.