Wednesday, October 25, 2023

brevity and longevity

In mid-June, we had several days of rain, and the tall grasses that the previous owner had planted in the front of our house were bent over in full feathery bloom. I tried to shake off the excess raindrops and stand a few upright again, but the gentle shaking did very little and I was hesitant to shake them more vigorously. Instead I kneeled down with my camera and imagined myself as a small creature looking up with great delight at the ephemeral passageway the arching boughs created. This view from nearer the ground gave me a beautiful vantage point that I knew was only temporary as the grasses would dry out and resume their normal position of standing upright.

Looking at this photograph again as I began to write made me remember an aspect of a city I grew up close to. The Lehigh County Historical Society recorded the construction of these glass sidewalk arches that I remember very fondly. We came to this street for shopping purposes when I was a child. I remember feeling a sort of enchantment when we walked along under this light-filled canopy. 

Covered sidewalks of Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA (1973)

The historical society records that the construction of these arches occurred during 1973. I can't find the exact date, but by the 1990's or so, the arches were removed. They lasted about twenty years. One city council thought they were a great improvement to the streetscape and two decades later, another city council had a different opinion. I'm sure the design had begun to look dated because of the style and materials used. 

As popular Twitter writer Wrath of Gnon asks in his newsletter:
Having established beauty as the paramount interest, how do we physically build something that is guaranteed to stand the test of ages?
In his answer, he lists three rules:
All living things ages, thus,
I. the materials we build with must still be around in a thousand year’s time.
II. the tools and techniques we build with must be transferrable so as to pass down through the generations and it must be possible to repair or replace every single part.
III. the purpose that we build for must be at the core of the human experience.
Then after elaborating on each of these, he asks:
But how do we know if our choices conform to these rules or break them?
The easiest is simply to look back and see what we did a thousand years before. If the essence or the very form a building survives to this day, it is likely that anything built in its manner will still be around a thousand years from now.
And in case you were concerned that nothing could be built unless it can stand for a thousand years, he offers this caveat:
Naturally I am not saying that we should always build everything with an eye for 100 generations (even the temporary or the disposable can have its place), but it seems wasteful to always build with materials destined for the landfill after less than one generation, like we do now.

You can read the whole essay, How to Build a Home that Lasts a Thousand Years on his Substack page.

A couple of weeks ago I started a lecture series on the book of Revelation by Pastor Jim Jordan and in the intro remarks of this last book of the Bible, he made mention of a long history. As we do not know how long the history of the nations will continue, it's wise to prepare for many generations and many years to come.
My mother-in-law researches family history as a hobby and has given each of her sons a framed family tree showing the lines of descendants for several generations. She also has showed us and read aloud to us from my husband's great-grandmother's journal entries as well as photographs that have been digitally preserved for all of us. There is a legacy of connectedness to these people who most of us in the family have never met and a desire to keep a remembrance of them. The journal entries especially give us insight into how one woman and her family lived in an era that no longer exists. Technology and neighborhoods have changed.
Recording the years we have been given and the eras we have lived through as people has long been the way that historians have understood the human experience. Believing that there are innumerable generations to come after you helps shape what your contribution can be to maintain the connection to wisdom and beauty that each generation conceives.

Psalm 103:13-18

As a father has compassion on his children,
  so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him;
for He knows how we are formed, 
  He remembers that we are dust.
As for man, His days are like grass,
  he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
  and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
  the LORD's love is with those who fear Him,
  and His righteousness with their children's children--
with those who keep His covenant
  and remember to obey His precepts.

There is both a brevity and a longevity to life. Our actual number of years lived is brief, but the marking of our days in both record and reflection is a lengthening. So however you mark your days (and the possibilities are as various as our personalities), it is good to keep both views in mind. One for humility, our days are brief and one for posterity, our days last for generations.

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