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Basketballer Kobe Bryant wore numbers 8 and 24 during his 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers. The week before Christmas, ESPN exuberantly reported a ceremony during which “the Lakers great had both of his numbers retired, and they will hang in the Staples Center rafters forever.”
No, they won’t. Someday that arena will fall down or be torn down.
Romance novelist Tessa Dare has one of her characters say, “I’m going to build that house with my own hands, from the foundation to the roof. I’m going to do it for us, and I’m going to do it right, so it lasts forever.”
No, it won’t. The Temple in Jerusalem didn’t last forever, and neither will any house.
The most realistic uses of ‘forever’ are 2,000 to 3,500 years old.
I put “forever” in a search engine and visited a website for “Forever,” which calls itself “The only full resolution online storage guaranteed for your lifetime +100 years.” Guaranteed? What dead person will enforce that?
I saw the Forever 21 retailer advertising a $25-off promo code, but it expired the next day.
The Always & Forever store sells “the best selection of authentic Pandora jewelry, Swarovski ornaments, Coach handbags, Lampe Berger & Lladro figurines.” They won’t be around always and forever.
The U.S. Postal Service sells “Forever Stamps,” but someday the Postal Service will no longer exist.
Movies and TV series have had “Forever” in their titles. The Beatles sang of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and a “Strawberry Fields” sign now stands over a patch of Central Park ground near where John Lennon took a fatal bullet.
The internet is full of “forever” attempts at poetry that won’t last long, such as Debasish Mridha’s “Write and create a blue sky / Forever with joy where I can fly.”
I wouldn’t fall for “FOREVER Identity: create your eternity. Create and preserve your identity, memories, personality, and physical traits and interact with future generations.” The company will create a 3-D holographic representation that “allows for technologically advanced interaction with users and future generations.”
As if future generations will care.
Let me count the come-ons: “Diamond Infused Skin Care is where skin care, cosmetics, and luxury meet. We invite you to become Forever Flawless.”
Since I could never be flawless, this appeal is more attractive: “Forever Lazy. All adult onesies are available in Footed and Non-Footed options. Super soft and comfortable to maximize lazy lounging.”
I could go on with foolish names: Forever Young LA. Ultima Online Forever. Forever Florida. Forever Pictures. Forever Health. Forever Bamboo. Forever Stainless Steel. Forever Farms. Forever Games. Forever Green. Forever Natural. Forever Tattoo Parlor …
Enough! Let’s move on to some realistic current usages. An Urban Dictionary definition explains that “forever is until you find something better,” as in “Honey, I will love you forever” becoming, six months later, “Honey, I’m leaving you for a 20-year-old.” Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl in Beautiful Creatures write, “I wanted it to stay this way forever. Which, it turns out, was exactly five more minutes.”
But the most realistic uses of “forever” are 2,000 to 3,500 years old. The English Standard Version of the Bible includes words translated as “forever” 379 times. Among them are Exodus 15:18’s “The LORD will reign forever and ever,” and Isaiah 25:8’s “He will swallow up death forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25 quotes Isaiah: “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
Ecclesiastes is an extended meditation on “forever.” Psalms 106, 107, 118, and 136 insist multiple times that we are to “give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
The Bible, in short, dispenses with pathetic uses of “forever” and gives us the hope that concludes the 23rd Psalm: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
And, since “forever” is still an abstract term, the last verse of “Amazing Grace” is worth keeping in mind: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, / Bright shining as the sun, / We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise / Than when we’ve first begun.”