Why do we even have the word forever? There is no forever. Everything changes. Everything comes to an end. Even the stalled line-up at the post office will grind its way forward like the good little glacier it is.
I am reminded that there is no forever while setting up poles for the scarlet runner beans in my vegetable garden. When I prepare to plant my scarlet runners, I use an iron bar to punch and expand deep, angled holes at measured distances, then place a pole in each. I join squares of four poles, angled to an apex, into a mutually-supportive tepee. It’s not a work of genius that Rodin (or your ten-year-old kid at art camp) might put together, but it is effective.
This tepee structure is critical later in the growing season when the poles are heavily weighted with vines and pods. Past experience has shown that the combined swipe of drenching rain and wind will cause any solitary pole plus its vines to topple like a stalk of wheat before a scythe. The poles must lean on each other to survive, and sets of four make a sturdy team.
At least, they are supposed to be a sturdy team.
As I set up one of the quads this time, I reach to place the third pole into its hole, and – thunk – a length of pole falls off the end of it.
My first response, just an intellectual reflex, really, is, “Oh well, nothing lasts forever.” But that is swiftly followed by my gut reaction, “Noooo! Everything breaks down TOO soon, TOO often, and at the MOST inconvenient moment.”
Then I take a deep breath, the better to expel a deep sigh, and my mind ambles off to the side to examine the word, forever. It’s a word my gut has always taken to mean endless, and for all time, despite some of the fudgy, watered-down meanings given in dictionary definitions. If forever means endless to me, where can I sensibly use the word? None of us will see our 200th birthday, so we’re not forever. Our planet is doomed to be swallowed by the Sun in a few billion years, so the Earth is not forever. Even the Universe could end at some point, though cosmologists have flip-flopped on how, when, and whether.
Coming back down to Earth, the romance industry wants us to believe that love is forever, or at least until you’ve made the final payment on that outrageous diamond. Unfortunately, we all know love only lasts until your partner turns into a lying, cheating pig. No, I mustn’t malign the stalwart pig. Instead, I should say, lying, cheating primate. Check out the documentary in which a low-ranking monkey finds a bird’s egg. Worried that an alpha monkey of the troop will demand the treat, the sly forager shouts, “Snake!” in monkey-speak, and is able to eat the egg while all the others flee, shrieking, into the trees. This is a clever stratagem until the day the liar gets caught, and it will be caught, because getting away with lies doesn’t last forever, either.
Have you seen the ads for pet adoption agencies in which they talk about animals that need a forever home? This use of forever takes my breath away with its audacity. A golden retriever, for example, will live an average of eleven years before moving on to drink from the great toilet bowl in the sky, at which point the retriever exists in memories, not in the home. But maybe the adoption agency is merely pointing out to us that our collective attention span is so short these days that eleven years qualifies as forever. A sobering thought, and one from which I quickly avert my attention.
Anyway, back to the bean pole. Yes, I know that soil plus wood plus fungus plus moisture equals rot. Understanding about wood rot, though, is not a ticket to being all Pollyanna about it when the end drops off. Even worse, is the fact that most of my poles are what might charitably be known as elderly. The less charitable would call them ghosts hanging by one final thread of lignin. One of these springtimes, I will go to the shed where they overwinter, scoop a bundle of them into my arms, and find myself holding air and wood dust.
When that happens, a great keening will arise from the west coast of North America. It will spread across the globe, echo and re-echo, and fill every open space and every cranny. Alas, in time, it will fade, and eventually it will die away to nothing. It will not last forever. There is no forever. In celebration of which, I close with a happy dance at the post office wicket.