Permanence

We visited our local amusement park many times when I was a child, and I assumed (in the manner of children everywhere) that it would always be there.

It isn’t.

Being around my young grandchildren every day has brought this home to me: they don’t get the concept of things breaking, or breaking down. If a toy gets broken, my granddaughter will say (she’s two) — “we need to buy some more”. To her, things are unquestionably permanent. She may not be able to find something, but she never doubts it is still there, somehow.

She (and her brother) will both learn, as we all must. Neither things, nor people are permanent in this life. But it is a sad lesson to watch children learn.

My own parents believed in the “cycle of life” approach to such things. The birth-growth-maturity-decline-death cycle is one they embraced, as a part of what life is. They were very accepting of the limitations that come with aging, and took practical steps to minimize the inconvenience from it. Because they believed that such things were inevitable, even if we cannot know exactly when and to what degree they will occur.

When it comes to wisdom, both moral and otherwise, my own belief is that humans never really get any better, on the whole. We may get better in some particular regard, but we simultaneously get worse in other regards. As an example, many people eat better these days than they did when I was a kid, but do a much worse job saving money for retirement. So they run the risk of sticking around long enough to realize they can’t afford to.

In other words, I believe in another sort of permanence: the permanence of human failings. This view allows me to simultaneously believe that people are getting better (in some regards) and that they used to be better (in other respects). I see it in myself: I may have gotten wiser in certain aspects of my life, but I’ve lost other sorts of energy and insight and sympathy with age.

We strive to improve, and we can; but other virtues and strengths slip away from us while we do. It’s part of what life is.


This old water slide was, at one time, a very busy place. It closed down long before the current health-related disruption to business, however. I remember being up there as a young man, looking down from that height, exhilarated. At age eighteen, even though I’d seen setbacks, it felt like I owned the world, or maybe better, that I *could* own the world, that it was there for the taking.

Perhaps we are born feeling the world is permanent because if we believed that it wasn’t, while trying to deal with our own bewildering changes, that would be, biologically, too much uncertainty to be useful. Or maybe, as C.S. Lewis famously believed, we are born with a desire for permanence because there really is permanence out there, just, not in this world.

This world of abandoned water slides.

2 thoughts on “Permanence

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