In the Business of Forever

By Lark Weller, National Park Service, Water Quality Coordinator
Photos by Roger Luteyn

What are the things that matter most to you? What gives your life meaning?

My guess is your answers have to do with those things, people, and events that pull your attention away from the superficial “to do” list of your day-to-day obligations and help you focus your thoughts and energy on things other than you: a powerful social moment or cause, the children in your community and life.

In the National Park Service, we say we’re in “the Forever Business.” This is catchy and sounds inspiring, right? But what does it really mean? The Forever Business, by definition, focuses on what is beyond me, you, us. We won’t be here forever. But, if we are careful stewards of our beloved and essential resources, we hope they will be.

Thinking beyond our own lives, then actually taking action in service of protecting something forever, in the midst of the bustle and noise of our culture, can be a bit disconcerting. Protecting a precious resource for “forever” is so at odds with the ephemeral nature of this culture that it can make one feel nearly schizophrenic.

Perhaps that is why the national parks are called “America’s Best Idea.” After all, any idea that helps us focus on something other than the insatiable appetite of our “now, now, now; more, more, more” culture seems fairly radical, refreshing, and downright genius.

When the franticness of daily life has worn me thin, I am grateful for those places, people, movements, and moments that call on me to remember something bigger, something that will live far beyond me, and something to which I really don’t matter. In my own life, I am thankful for—and need—reminders that my day-to-day stresses are usually that: day-to-day. I’ll have them every day, and new ones will appear tomorrow. In the grand scheme—the forever business—of life and rivers, they truly do not matter.

The National Park Service works to protect the Mississippi River so it can continue to serve a refreshing, curative, grounding role in your life and in the life of our environment, community, and world.

So, now, I wonder: how could our lives be reframed so we appreciate daily the salutary gifts of the beautiful Mississippi River? How could our lives more intentionally contribute to the “forever business” of preserving the Mississippi River’s restorative powers?

It is a privilege to work to protect the Mississippi River, which gives us so much. The river provides our drinking water and carries away our waste. It provides habitat to diverse wildlife and gives people recreational respite from the bustling cities that thrive on its banks. We need the river, and it needs our stewardship in exchange.

To protect the Mississippi “forever,” we’ll need your help. Won’t you take a step back from your busy to-do list and join us in the Forever Business?  A remarkable river awaits you!