When I was a child I was subtlety taught that nothing is forever. One of the ways I learned was the age-old children’s song, London Bridge. The words even emphasized you that the best ideas of mankind often came to naught. If you build with wood and clay it will wash away. This is a concept that seems to have slipped away from those vaunted American values so often talked about.
The concept disappeared somewhere in the 1970s when, I believe, the generations that could not remember the death and destruction of World War Two when so much of our world was falling apart.
Last week I drove up to our Episcopal Church in Northern Wisconsin and admired the lovely addition built on it in the past five years. I suddenly had a memory that has occurred to me over and over since 9/11. Sometime in the 70s, I was riding the train from Washington to New York City on business. When we got to New Jersey, across from New York, I found myself staring at the World Trade Center. I had never liked the buildings and thought their extreme height and placement at the tip of Manhattan was jarring and out of place. I got to thinking that at some point they would have to be torn down and I found myself going over scenarios of just how one would do that. To deconstruct them from the top would be an enormous job. I remembered the implosion of a downtown hotel in Oklahoma City, and thought what a mess that would be in structures so tall. Never would I think I would live to see them fall down from a hostile action, but I had visions of them, ivy covered stumps in some far distant landscape.
The sight of the church reminded me that in a thousand years, it will not be here, or at least not in its present form. This is not to say that some things last a long time; the step pyramid at Sakkara, Angkor Wat, Chichen Itza, Cusco and Mesa Verde come to mind. But they are not the same and the civilizations which surrounded them are totally mutated.
Somehow, attached to our cars, our houses and sometimes even our families, we fail to recognize what children grew up knowing in another age. Nothing on earth is forever. This is a concept deeply imbedded in Eastern philosophy. Somehow America has to relearn the paradox of letting to receive. That being and becoming must always be taken together. It’s not easy when you are terrified of not getting something you want or losing what you have. But it is a lesson nature will force on us.