In Perpetuity

Wandering around Victoria BC on a blue-sky day a few months ago, I was on the lookout for photography opportunities. Failing to see any grasses atop stone walls, I was momentarily stumped.

But the ever-helpful photography gods are never far off, and so — in a Love-the-one-you’re-with sort of way — I began to notice signs, built into the very buildings themselves. Signs that no longer applied to what was within; signs for businesses that had simply moved on or gone the way of all flesh.

sign permanent2


sign permanent1


They were from another era to be sure. As I wandered, taking photos, I wondered idly when businesses dropped the “in perpetuity” assumption that seemed implicit in these signs. When did they stop carving and chiseling their names above the doors, and start painting them on windows instead, the better to scrape them off, My Dear?

sign permanent2a
Now, I could have thought about the impermanence simultaneously afflicting and benefiting business: the challenges and opportunities from demographic and technological change, competition from new places, and the insatiable desire for novelty that our means of production can finally feed, if not exactly satisfy.

Or I could have thought about the impermanence simultaneously afflicting and benefiting society: family breakdown, as well as the freedom to pursue heart’s-desire careers in far-away places and to take on more-flexible roles that let more people be who they were born to be.

But it really is all about me. And so I thought, instead, on the impermanence in my own life — relocations, ups and downs with friends-and-relations, career shifts, changing interests and beliefs — and whether and how it afflicts or benefits my being. I wondered what things I daub on my windows each year, to be scraped off and replaced without any concern or lasting loss. And I wondered what things I carve over my lintel: what things are permanently me, even though I, like those long-gone businesses, am not exactly a permanent resident myself.



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4 Responses to In Perpetuity

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Ah, perpetuity — so alluring, so elusive, perhaps so illusive. We carve our names in stone; we build pyramids, we publish books…. All because we know that the human body has a limited shelf-life, even if we have no idea when our “best before” date will come up. I wonder sometimes if our beliefs in heaven and life-after-death may be our way of denying what we know to be true, that we will all eventually die, and disappear. Memory rarely lasts more than two generations. So we think that a name carved in stone will last longer, even if no one knows any more what it stands for. Like the fabled Ozymandias in the desert.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I wonder whether we’re any different now as a society than when these buildings went up, in this one regard. We live faster and we expect a high rate of change – we almost demand it. I wonder whether that affects our need to make a lasting mark.

  2. I work both to see results in the here and now and to have an impact that will outlast me. If carving my name in stone were to some purpose in that plan, I would do it. My work seems to require that my name be known while I am at work. My purpose, however, is to set something in motion that does not require that I be remembered but that my teaching should take effect. I crave no other memorial except to remain in loving memory of those I have loved. However, I am not so sure as Jim seems to be that death ends all. I have intimations of immortality and they have nothing to do with early childhood but to the way time vanishes from some types of perception. We, or some of us humans, are aware of the presence and of communications from those who officially and really have died. The awareness of the passing from this life into another can be perceived regardless of distance and differences in time zones. The future, as we measure it with ears accustomed to ticking off sound frequencies in split seconds, may be present to us long before it arrives and in ways that are meaningful and important. If we can know the future, it’s not much of a stretch to know it beyond one’s own lifetime: the prophecies of Jesus and of his forebears come to mind. In that dimension, the need for carved images or names becomes comical, does it not?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Yes, launching (or even contributing significantly to) something that outlasts our span in this life appeals to many, I expect – certainly to me. As for the afterlife, well, we’ll see. In any event, in the here, now, and foreseeable/apprehendable future, I do better when I work for something lasting, whether my name lasts or not.

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