The first thing I do when I am writing is I make sure my teeth are brushed, my bed is made, the dishes are all washed, the laundry is done completely, the lawn is mowed, the dog and cats have been fed, my bills are paid, and my budget for the foreseeable future is documented somewhere. The IRS considers something you do that does not make money a hobby. Because my writing is a hobby, my Puritan ethic indulges me in the fun stuff in my life only after I have done all the income-producing and maintaining work.
Somewhere in my childhood, I remember seeing a picture of two men in loin cloths carrying a stone with a hole in it. Sanding on its end, it was as tall as they were. The caption was called “the first money.” I was in grade school at the time and thought about what a burden it must have been to be rich back then. I looked up the history of money because I wanted to document this memory in some way, but this picture that is clear in my mind’s eye was nowhere I could find on the Internet. Perhaps it isn’t real.
In my research, I found that money has taken many forms in human history. First, and not hard to believe, was the custom of barter as the exchange of goods and services of agreed upon equal value. I can see the writing on the wall of two cave people with bubbles drawn over their heads depicting one saying, “I’ll swap you this wheel for a light from your fire,” and the other, “Deal.” Actually the wheel looked a lot like my memory of the first money. Maybe I got pictures and captions reversed in my memory banks.
Then it went from cows being considered money to the cowrie shell, which was the longest and most widely used currency in history. About 2,500 years ago, modern coinage was made from silver, bronze and gold. That was replaced in the 1800s with the gold standard and banknotes, which is a document that promises the “real” value and theoretically can be redeemed for that real something at some point. Our currency now is stored in “digital cash in the form of bits and bytes” somewhere in cyberspace so we can sit at home and count our money by using our online banking.
The dance that money makes is the faith we have in the systems we, as a nation, have invented. Money has been the topic of conversation for me during the past month and I will tell you that people often have as much reservations about talking about money as they do about death. However, given the right surroundings and approaching it gently, even money discussions can be worked into conversations.
That being said, I have talked with several people about money recently in preparation for writing this money piece. First, I asked a friend about how he likes retirement. He is my age and he says that because he and his wife have always “lived below their means,” he is very happy with his retirement. He has been able to save enough money so he does not have to work to make ends meet. This leaves him with the time to do his hobbies, like read, volunteer, and maintain his beloved home, not to mention cooking delectable meals that I happened to enjoy during my interview.
Then I visited a banker, who confirmed some surprising ideas about money for me. She said that money itself is an idea and it does not really exist in the way we think it does. The worth of a banking institution may be true on paper, but the money we think is physically present is not in the bank. Money seems to exist as a promise the money will be available upon request. I don’t know about you, but I have never felt the need to get the actual worth of a promissory note. It is out working somewhere in the world.
I have always thought the stock market was another form of gambling. Most anyone I have talked with over the years has worked hard to convince me that it is not the case. This banker confirmed my suspicion that it is a form of gambling. However, the odds of having it pay off with a jackpot have mostly to do with keeping the money in place and having faith that the market will either turn around or continue in a lucrative direction over time. The market has consistently improved over the years, so I think that most people have not lost faith in it. The banker and I continued to have a very interesting conversation about our system of money being mostly an experience of faith.
I talked with another friend, who recounted Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his fireside chats encouraging the American people to not sit on their money at home. He talked enough of us and our parents and grandparents into pulling those promissory notes from under mattresses and moving them into banks. FDR knew that people had to have faith in their banks so that access to the money could help grow the economy.
Movement is what the universe is all about. According to scientists, our entire universe is constantly expanding itself. Even the scientists who study what everything is made of tell us that atoms that make up all substance are in constant motion. I know I was amazed when I learned that even the atoms that make up a hard granite rock are in constant motion. It is still a hard concept for me to grasp.
Maintaining our health is largely dependent upon what we do. The same is true with maintaining wealth. If we are constantly putting foods with little or no real nutrition into our bodies, then our health is compromised. If we are constantly spending more than we make buying stuff that does not have real value, then our wealth is compromised. I figure the bottom line is that money is a spirit that moves us to dance. I think I’ll go spend some money on Zumba classes, you know, just to keep the universe in balance.
Lenora Trussell, RN, is an end-of-life tour guide. She is available for presentations, workshops, and as a travel planner for that pesky end-of-life journey we are all destined to take. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.