Nothing lasts forever.
You’ve heard, I’ve heard it. I believe most religions teach it. Your Mother said it to you at least once.
It isn’t even true. Some things do last forever. I give you: first impressions, a positive radon test and Herpes.
Even if we can’t agree that nothing lasts forever, I suspect we can agree the almost nothing lasts forever.
As bromides go, that’s not much help. Human nature will dictate that if almost nothing lasts forever, we will all assume that the things we love are the exceptions to the rule.
Such it was with my Amazon.com coffee mug.
Way back when, when the Internet was just getting started, I was an early adopter of Amazon. I lived in a small town without a real bookstore. The idea you could get any book you wanted brought straight to your door was pretty cool. One December day, an un-ordered package showed up from Amazon that was loaf-shaped, not book-shaped.
Inside was a travel coffee mug sent as a holiday gift. (This was in the first Internet bubble. Amazon’s even better customers were mailed a live lobster and the best were mailed a live lobster that could actually read. Except he didn’t read Old Man and the Sea. You understand.).
The mug is predominantly purple and has quotes about reading on it. (Example: “The world is but a canvas to the mind”–Henry David Thoreau). As soon as I began to use it, I fell in love.
While I liked the quotes and the color was fine, what set this travel mug apart from the other mugs in my life is that it never, ever, ever leaked.
This sounds like nothing, but it isn’t. In America, the land where we once sent people into space and blew them all up fewer than five times, we are shockingly unable to design a travel mug that doesn’t leak. Maybe we don’t have our best people on it.
The primary purpose of my travel mug is to caffeinate me during my drive to work in the morning. I dress like Dilbert (my son, as a toddler, used to point at my Dilbert doll and say “Daddy!”) and when a mug leaks, you show up at work with brown splotches on your white shirt. You have to take one of those toxic laundry pens and daub out the stain and by then your day is off to a bad start and probably will never recover.
My mug and I became close companions, traveling to and six states and two countries. It sustained me through three jobs, four homes, three cars, and most of the life of my now 15 year old. I drank from it the day of and the day after my divorce. There were weddings, funerals, raging snowstorms and a one-car wreck that totaled my Saturn. Along the way, it was used everyday, washed less frequently and dropped multiple times (once from the roof of a moving car).
Yet it never leaked.
Truth be told, I think I probably believed that it would last forever. I thought I was special. Or it was special.
Alas, the end came last week. It slipped from my hand and landed on the hard pavement. The rim broke, which separated the inside vessel from the shell. I picked it up. There was nothing that could be done. It was over.
My notes for this story indicate that this is the time for a “spurious link to the bigger picture.” If so, I’m your guy. I hereby declare an expected, gratuitous, and spurious link to my own mortality and the mortality of all things.
Here’s another way of looking at it, though. Rather than thinking about the mortality of things in the face of the ultimate chaos of the universe, think about the mortality of things in the light of something self-inflicted: our constant desire to find something new. Maybe the best thing about my coffee mug wasn’t actually about the coffee mug; maybe it was about me.
When holding (literally) something very good in my hands, I resisted the urge to discard it for something newer just because it was available.
This is not how people in consumer societies typically operate. We are a society of change, of creative destruction, of a voracious appetite for the novel. We simply cannot rest on the known when the unknown might be better.
Which is why it seems odd that we are worried about things lasting forever when we don’t want to keep them anyway. Perhaps we need to pair our creative destruction with creative preservation, where we recognize things that are right for us and concede permanence to the Gods, dedicating ourselves to the mortal (but still noble) task of extending the lifespan of those things that are good.