Recently, I read two “laws,” philosophical phrases that pack a lot of truth into just a few words. The first is known as Stein’s Law-“Things that can’t go on forever don’t.” The second is referred to as Davies’s Corollary-“Things that can’t go on forever can go on much longer than you think.” What a clever way to summarize the human condition, and to highlight the cause of so many of our problems.
I am looking at these phrases from a few different perspectives. The first is the sadness we all feel when something really good ends. Think about a memorable experience from your childhood. Maybe the whole family was together for a picnic, everyone laughing, playing and enjoying each other’s company. Or, that Christmas morning when the one toy you had hoped would be under the tree, was.
Your first date might qualify. Maybe it was homecoming, or with a group of friends. Possibly it was your first solo date with someone; no parents or wise-cracking friends anywhere around. Nerves, terror, anticipation, giddiness, and then what you had dreamed about for weeks comes to an end. A profound mixture of joy, relief, and sadness wash over you. Of course, if that first date did not go as you has dreamed it would, then a welcome release at the end: “Who knew three hours could last so long?”
Anything that we engage in, has a conclusion. Whatever the experience or feeling, good or not-so-good, has an end.
The second statement is also very true. In this case, it seems that this truism is more often the case when we are in a not-so-pleasant situation. I remember quite vividly feeling several times, over a three-month period, that Army basic training would never end. It did and I survived; I am pretty sure I actually matured and grew more self-confidence during that cold and wet time at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri. But, those three months looked endless as I stepped off that bus.
Covid and all its ramifications certainly have seemed to go on much longer than I expected. Who would have thought we would be within 4 months of registering two years of this assault. Things that can’t go on forever sometimes seem like they can.
I think how we respond to either of these phrases tells us a lot about ourselves. When we were younger didn’t we live as if things do go on forever? The future is simply too far ahead to worry.
Age has a habit of bringing the last part of that first statement into focus. Things in our life that we always assume will continue, don’t. A relationship falters, a job ends, illness and a body not built to last let us down. Years of denying poor health and personal maintenance practices catch up with us.
Yet, as an optimist, I accept the first truism but absolutely believe in the second. Yes, my life has an expiration date. Unlike a carton of milk, I have no idea when that is, but I know it will happen.
in the meantime, I lean into the idea that my future will last longer than I know. I will take that extra time to explore what being a human means, love passionately and fully, spread joy, and relish the wonder of human existence.
When my future finally ends, I won’t look back in regret that I spent whatever time I am given worrying about that invisible expiration date.