To me, the word “Forever” has always had a certain sanctity. There were only two ways in which I commonly heard it used. One was in prayers and hymns, particularly in what Christians refer to as The Lord’s Prayer (though it is not perfectly clear from the title whether “The Lord” is “Our Father,” to whom the prayer is addressed, or the “Lord Jesus,” by whom it was, we are told, given to the world).
That prayer, as I was taught to say it in the Toronto public schools I attended, ended with the words:
“For Thine is the Kingdom,
The Power and the Glory,
Forever and ever. Amen”
(Forgive this aside, but we happen to have a local realtor named Thyne – and whenever I see his name on a property sign, I can’t help thinking, “Thyne is the Kingdom.”)
The other, and even more common, occurrence of “Forever” has been in expressions of love, especially in songs. There are literally thousands of songs with “Forever” in the title or the lyrics, and you can bet that most of them have to do with just how long the love under consideration is going to last.
Two other words express the same idea: infinity and eternity – though they do not get nearly as much exposure in prayers and sentimental songs. They both imply “without beginning or end” (which is nicely depicted by a circle). Infinity seems to get the most use in mathematics and science, while eternity is more popular with the theological crowd.
But in all these cases, the concept is generally treated with the dignity it deserves. That is why I was so shocked when our own U.S. Postal Service, in 2007, came out with a new series of stamps called FOREVER stamps, which actually bore that word on them. This commercial gimmick, introduced by a beloved but failing institution, not only insulted the intelligence of everyone who knows the likely durability of any official promises – but also sadly debased the stature of a word which until then no nation on Earth had ever, to my knowledge, had the temerity to imprint on its coinage or even its paper currency, let alone on something as ephemeral as a postage stamp.
These stamps were intended to cover the cost of first class postage on a regular letter, and the “Forever” designation was supposed to protect the purchaser from any future price rise. Naturally, people rushed to acquire as many copies as they could of this postal phenomenon, which bore no price, just a perpetually guaranteed value – something which seemed almost too good to be true.
But the price of “Forever” stamps themselves kept rising, along with all other prices – until a very ironical thing happened. In April 2016, the Postal Service announced that it was actually lowering the postage rate of a first-class letter from 49 to 47 cents! This meant that all the people who had bought Forever stamps when the price was 49 cents now had stamps worth 2 cents less. So much for the postal version of that beautiful concept of foreverness.
Let’s move on to a much more generally accepted symbol of permanent value – the diamond. Thanks to the De Beers Diamond Company, everyone knows that “A Diamond Is Forever.” Actually, we owe this slogan to a young copywriter of theirs named Frances Gerety, who in 1947 almost literally dreamed it up. The slogan has proved to have almost mystical endurance, never failing since then to appear in every De Beers advertisement. Ms Gerety herself lived to be 83, but those four words constitute her entire claim to fame.
Of course, not even diamonds, which are simply one form of carbon, last forever in any chemical or cosmological sense. But, for us transient mortals, “Forever” has an even more restricted meaning. Despite all the love songs, the marriage vows, as given in the Book of Common Prayer, don’t even use that word, but instead realistically limit each partner’s commitment “Till Death Do Us Part,” which presumably terminates the bond upon the demise of either party.
And even that master songwriter, Irving Berlin – who, unlike most of his colleagues, wrote his own words and music, and who, though Jewish, gave us “White Christmas” and, though American, celebrated the very British “Tea For Two” – does not appear to have used the word “Forever” in any of his published lyrics. Instead, he gave us another way of saying it, in his song “Always”.