Action figures

During my lifespan I have adopted rather divergent standards of action, usually translated as athleticism — for in this day and age, it is the select few who find action as anything but luxury undertaken when workload and home life allow. It began with running around, (typically after I’d read plenty) climbing trees, swimming, gymnastics, horse-riding, and most of all, dancing. Ballet. I was going to be a ballerina. Yvonne Chouteau told me so.

I gave up this idea reasonably quickly, however, and stopped going to ballet class once I’d gotten my toe shoes. I loved performing, but that happened infrequently, and class itself was uninspiring. And I was an emerging adolescent, which made everything more awkward.

In college, I fell in with the Big Haus Society, (“it’s the thought that counts”) and enjoyed swapping verbal repartee in the densely smoke-filled library, although, to be honest, this was only true insomuch as there was at least one semi-attractive single male present and/or I could feel myself connecting on some more personable level, platonic or otherwise. I could revel in the mental commune, for hours, but usually only on rather intimate terms. Many was the time that I sat out of politeness after having lost interest listening to some long-winded theory on time, the universe, Dante, politics, morality, agrarian society, the futility of sports, musical dissonance, what-have-you. I got bored because all this seemed rather inactionable; there was always something I wished I could do for the world in general, something besides sit around and talk about it (read: judge it, in our infinite wisdom, as acceptable or idiotic). Or maybe I got bored because I sometimes felt like, being a woman, I had to appear twice as logical, twice as diplomatic, and listen twice as much as I spoke, in order to be taken seriously. And the males in the room could revel in pedantic off-the-cuff flippancy ad nauseum, and get away with it.

On the other extreme, there were the (also usually male) sport enthusiasts I knew. They were discontent unless they were “doing” something, or, at the very least, talking about it — gear, routes, workouts, warm-ups, cross-training, diets, what they wanted to try, what their friends had tried, what this one guy in Argentina had tried. Deep personal talks with them consisted of re-hashing minute details of what they’d done the day before. Anything else was “too analytical” and a waste of energy. Not because they had no grasp of anything else — these were people who had their own opinions and would read classic lit on a rainy day — but because trying to discuss a book for more than two minutes was pushy and meaningless. When they could move, though, they moved, and it was typically grand. And I was more OK with the fact that I was clearly at something of a disadvantage as a female.

And, of course, there were the save-the-planet hippies, the French strikers, the non-profit canvassers and the door-to-door evangelists, who took a different approach to action. Opponents decry this as a waste of energy, and/or just plain annoying. Which, often, it is. Chances are, any action undertaken, even in the name of goodness, will annoy somebody.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Is action engaging your brain, your body, or your conscience? Or is it just impossible? You don’t change much by sitting around and talking about the world — although you may connect with another person and spur something better, more sublime. You don’t change much by buying expensive gear and building up your muscle mass — although you may connect with another person and spur something better, more sublime. You don’t even change much by ladling out soup at a soup kitchen — although you may connect with another person and spur something better, more sublime.

Perhaps in the end, the only real improvement you can hope to for is to make someone’s life better, and this is best discovered through shared experience, whatever that may be:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.

It is too easy to be cynical, and I am still an idealist. I still think sharing words can change the world. I still think sharing in the stillness of nature, in the strain of your own limbs, can change the world. I still think a cup of water to the thirsty can change the world. Thus, trite as it may sound, blessings be upon you all.

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