Friday, November 14, 2008

GREAT NEWS!!! You CAN take it with you!

I want it all, I want it now, and I want to keep it. Is that so much to ask?

In the roaring 90s, people didn't seem to think so. You could be a super-mom, a super-dad, a condo-flipper or a day-trading master of the universe in your spare time. Hard work? Thrift? Saving for the future? That was SO twentieth century. In the New Economy, all you had to do was buy a house and invest in the stock market to retire fabulously wealthy at age 50.

But something funny happened on the way to the Great American Empire – it began to crumble before our eyes, and one day we woke up to the possibility of not a new empire, but a new Great Depression. Since then, we've been scaling back our expectations, as befits a population that's been bitch-slapped by reality in the past year or so.

So, providing you have anything left, can you really take it with you? Well, to paraphrase a prevaricating president, it depends on what the meaning of the word "it" is. If "it" means money, cars, houses, and Treasury bonds maturing in 2038, chances are you can NOT take it with you. Of course, because of the tendency of the dead to remain silent, we can't even be sure of that.

But the Bible tells me so, and who am I to doubt the Word of God? In Luke 18:18-30, Jesus states that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. (Besides being the Son of God, Jesus was a master of metaphor.)

On the other hand, if you had told me in 1985 that the entire sum of the world's computing power would one day fit on a 1-inch square sliver of silicon, I would have given the camel better odds. And camels are nasty animals who would just as soon spit in your eye than share their extra water with you. So camels are out. I'm counting on my laptop and my online "short selling" account to "thread the needle" and give me a full trailer to back up to the Pearly Gates.

But you say, "Scott… Scotto, whatever the hell your name is—surely you jest! You can't really believe that a Celeron processor will get you into heaven, do you?" Of course I don't. It would take at least a quad-core CPU with 4GB of memory and perhaps some RAID-striped hard drives. As soon as the market turns around, I am SO going to buy one.

But in all seriousness—and I'm rarely all serious—the expression "you can't take it with you" is only partly true. All religions have some concept of the afterlife (or rebirth). Unless you're an atheist who believes that the afterlife consists of being eaten by worms, you have a certain faith that the things you do in this life will follow you into the next.

If you have this faith, it follows naturally that the sum total of love, kindness, compassion and joy that you share with people in this world will not be simply wiped out upon your earthly demise. The permanence of spiritual treasure is what makes it infinitely superior to any material reward. In fact, seeking material success and recognition is simply a misguided attempt to find this spiritual treasure and keep it for your own. But you can't have love unless you give it away.

As my friends and family are painfully aware, I have been going through a tumultuous time over the past few months. Demons that I thought I had once conquered returned, including alcohol abuse, marital problems and paralyzing self-doubt. When it all came to a head, I did what any mature, adult man would do—I went home to mom.

There, as the sun went down each night, I would sit outside in the warm southern air, gazing at the heavens and wishing on the evening star. My wishes were mostly selfish, pleading to the ancient gods to rearrange situations as I would have them, and return things to me that I thought were rightfully mine, by virtue of destiny. But if destiny is in the stars, the stars weren't listening.

As I was flying home into San Jose, the evening star again came into view. Above the clouds and pollution, it shined brighter than I had ever seen. With my face pressed up against the window, I watched it with an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder. I could have taken that moment to restate my personal wishes with a new energy. Instead, I found myself wishing that the star would shine love over all of the world.

Just then the plane dipped and turned, and the lights of Silicon Valley came into view, stretched out like a carpet of jewels covering the four corners of the earth. My heart overflowed with joy, and I had a sense of finally returning home—not to San Jose, but to the original home that is the source of all life—the abode of unlimited, unconditional love.

I walked off of the plane with the same feeling of fullness and joy, and to this day I feel transformed. Will it last? That's beside the point. Every one of us, at every instant, has the ability to feel love, kindness, compassion—but only if we are willing to give it away. According to the gospel of John, Paul, George and Ringo, "The love you take is equal to the love you make."

For those of us who want it all, this is the best news we could ever hear.