Late last night, I read the second prompt for the Quest16 adventure.
But before I get into the details, here’s the prompt offered by visionary Jonathan Fields:
You wake up to discover a knock at your door. A wealthy uncle you barely knew has passed and left you a fortune. It’s more than enough to live out your days in glorious splendor, but there is a condition. To be eligible to collect, you must commit your full-time working energies to the pursuit of an answer to a single question of your choosing for the next 12 months.
You are welcome to continue that pursuit after the year ends, for years or decades if it warrants, but you must remain fully focused on seeking the answer until the last minute of the 365th day. A minute shorter, the entire inheritance goes to your annoying and equally long lost cousin, Philly.
What is your question?
Immediately, far too many questions crammed my mind. I always have questions. And my ever-so-happy-to-be-up-late brain started spinning.
Which question to ask? But more importantly, how could I combine them all into the one scintillating and perfect query that could crack my world open.
I decided to sleep on it.
I did not sleep well, and woke late, stumbling for my morning Goddess – espresso. It was the prompt that had created dissonance in the night.
It had disturbed me in some way I could not quite locate, and I had this odd dream about playing Monopoly with Gandhi and cackling over winning. Except the money was real. I sat there on a pile of gold, feeling as crafty as Smaug.
I looked into Gandhi's brown eyes, and said to the Mahatma, “Here, you take it.”
He smiled at me, and said, “I don’t want it either.”
I am now sipping my coffee, and realize that this prompt is going to be, by far, the easiest one to write about.
So here’s my question.
“How can the world begin to value life more than money?”
This question is easy, and more than a little obvious for me because I have devoted the last decade of my life to writing, journeying, teaching and probably proselytizing on how the insane cultural value of “We value money more than life” is destroying us, and everything on our blue orb.
I came to this realization after years of working shamanically with my helping spirits – who are omniscient, powerful and made of love and compassion – and not from people. But the incarnate beings that taught me the most about the dishonor of this value is a sanctaury of Moon Bears in Cheng Du, China, who have been saved by Animals Asia Foundation.
I am very, very tired of asking this question, but it hangs around, probably like Phil. Annoying me. Plauging me. It will not let me go.
But here’s the thing. I almost took the bait. And that is because I, too, live in our culture, and so I occasionally fall into the trap of wanting more gold.
What I honestly want is some solvency, yes, but really what I really crave is good health, and freedom to do my best to serve life.
There is, of course, a story behind all this, which I shall share because it’s a very good one.
I met my husband Don over thirty years ago. He is a painter. From the first second we met, and I fell into his kindest-in-the-world eyes, and I knew we’d marry. No joke. One second.
We met in the now demolished, classy bar and restaurant in Seattle called The Queen Anne Bar and Grill.
I was dressed as if I was going to the Met on opening night, in a long black jumpsuit that showed my then perky cleavage to very good advantage. And I was wearing a couture floor length black velvet cape. It has a loose hood, trimmed with black marabou feathers. I was also wearing very fine French rhinestones that sparkled brighter than diamonds. Long, dangly earrings, and a killer cuff bracelet.
All of these remarkable accountrements had been inherited by my step-mother, a famous international journalist, who had committed suicide years earlier (another story, but one of the reasons why she killed herself had a lot to do with money).
Elizabeth Peer was the first woman editor for Newsweek in Paris, and was the first woman to hold that title for any of the world’s most prestigious journals. She was also my spiritual mother, the one who encouraged me to act and write, and adored me in a way I had never experienced before. And on that night I wore her Parisian clothes so I could to wrap myself in our memories.
In those days, I was a natural blonde (I am still a blonde, but there’s NOTHING natural about it) upswept into a French twist. I knew a lot about drama and make-up, and so my eyes were mascaraed, and my lips were painted as-deep-as-your-soul red.
I wasn’t there that night to meet anyone except a plate of food. The bartender John at the Queen Anne was a friend, and he had called the day before to tell me that the Seattle Opera was hosting their yearly benefit the following night; he would sneak me in so I could eat from their banquet. That was lovely because I was a starving actress.
I had garbed myself spectacularly because I was coming from the Seattle’s Directors Festival, and had just seen some new plays. Forget the fact that I was living in Seattle where jeans and a t-shirt pass for formal wear. I was from New York. I knew how to put on the Ritz, and pull it off.
John, being both gay and fiercely protective of me, grabbed my arm when I made my entrance, turning a few heads. That, of course, was my intention. Actors want to be in the spotlight, always.
He hissed in my ear. “THE most gorgeous man ever made is sitting at the bar, and I have been beating women away from the seat next to him. You are LATE.”
He glowered at me, adding, “He doesn’t want me. Why do all the good ones have to be straight?”
I couldn’t have cared less about the most handsome man in the world because I hadn’t eaten in over a day; I was not doing a play at that time. In other words, I was down to just a few dollars in the bank.
I kissed John on the cheek, and said, “Later. Where is the food?”
He scowled, and nodded at the restaurant entrance where the holy buffet table was glistening with a champagne fountain and enough smoked salmon and beef wellington and, and, and to keep me in calories for at least a week.
I had, of course, brought a big black purse, and as I piled food onto the plate, I piled food into the bag as sneakily as I could. I then headed back to the cozy bar, which only had eight stools, and sat down at the only one that was empty. The last one, and the wall, decorated with signed head shots (yes, mine was there too) of Seattle’s up and coming thespians, was to my right.
The guy on my left was talking to the guy on his left. John brought me my customary free Dewars, and gave me a disgusted look as I piled into the food like a bear must do when he finds a very good garbage pile in the spring.
After minutes of devoted eating, I looked up from the plate to see John scowling at me, doing that jerky thing with his head that people do when they want you to look in a particular direction.
And at that moment, Don turned his head and looked at me. John had not used hyperbole. He WAS the most handsome man in the world. Soft, dark brown hair in soft curls. Hazel eyes. And the most beautiful configuration of cheeks, nose and mouth that could any god could devise.
But, regardless of my swoon, my eyes dropped into those hazel eyes as soon as I saw them. And that was the moment I decided to marry him.
What I saw was kindness, a kindness that trumped his beauty. A kindness that I thought did not exist on this planet.
We started to talk, laugh and drink. An hour or two later, I knew he was an artist and that his favorite movie was “Lost Horizon,” which I had never seen.
He wanted to show me what Shangri-La was like, and so he picked up a blue Bic pen from the bar, and started sketching Shangri-La on my wrist, inching slowly up my arm. I watched, as my veins became mountains and my flesh snowy and shadowed fields. By the time he had reached that sensitive skin in the belly of my elbow, I asked him if he wanted to go home with me.
He said yes, and said he’d follow me home. I wanted him so much that I drove as fast as an Indie driver, and almost lost him as he broke all the speed limits to keep up.
Since that day, we’ve never really been apart.
A day later, we decided to get out of bed and find some pancakes. And then he took me to his apartment. It was a small place in a lousy part of Seattle. A very meager room, and before I could sit down in the tiny space, he said, “Let me show you my studio,” and opened a door with a rattling door nob.
It was a storefront. A pretty big one. All the windows had old, slack blankets hanging on them for privacy. And there were dozens and dozens of his paintings stacked against walls and his tabouret and his drawing table. I wandered like Alice through an art labyrinth, and could not believe what I was seeing. Paintings of oceans and unimaginable landscapes. And abstracts. The beauty was overwhelming. They were luminous, and unlike any other art I had ever had the privilege to witness. And I visited the Met, MOMA, and the Guggenheim when I lived in New York. I had high standards.
Thirty plus years later, Don still paints masterpieces (he has made it into a museum), but has never been showered with the fame everyone says he deserves. So it goes. I am no longer acting. At one point, being tired of waitressing as my acting survival skill, I decided to take one year off to get some creds as a copywriter with the intention to quit in one year, and freelance so I could keep acting. But on the very first day of my first new freelance life (I met my deadline), I was struck with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and my quest for a cure became my chief profession (along with penning as much copywriting writing as I could pull off, in partnership with fellow quester Lori Christopher).
Seven years into my illness, I proposed to Don who thought marriage was immaterial, but who said yes because I think he did understand that I wanted to celebrate what we had. And still have. On our wedding day, Don did not know if I would ever recover. More than 80% of people who get CFS end up in divorce court. Don married me when I was sick, and didn’t know if I would recover.
My 15-minutes of poster-girl medical fame came when shamanism cured me of my illness, which was supposed to be incurable, in four hours after my 11th year of being quite ill. I was convinced that if I could understand what wisdom the illness wanted to impart, I would no longer need the illness. A decidedly shamanic notion, although I had never heard of shamanism until I had been spiritually questing for more than a decade.
And so I met the other love of my life, shamanism. And the journey to the spirit of the illness was the scariest thing I had ever done. And the spirit of CFS taught me what I needed to learn in that journey. Poof. No more illness. Only multiple blood tests, repeated several times, could convince the doctors.
In short (am I allowed to say that after writing for so long?), my husband and I chose love, art and devotion to life decades ago. We decided to live the way we were called to live. We have both suffered more illness, lost a house, went bankrupt and started all over again in our fifties.
Now that I am 64, I do what most people do. I look back and assess. There has been nothing easy about our lives, although there had been a lot of magic. I often joke that my retirement plan is to buy a ticket to the Caribbean and look for the nicest bridge I can find to live under so I can play with dolphins.
But there is not one regret. I understand Timothy’s 6:10 biblical quote, which reads differently than the mangled, popular version:
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Money is not the root of all evil; love of money is. I am a recovered Catholic so I do know a bit about the bible.
Still, we struggle hard to make ends even come close to meeting. Smart advisors tell me I undercharge for my work, which I grudgingly admit is true, and this year, again, my rates will go up, not because I think people should have to pay more, but because I live at a time when money is valued more than life and we have a mortgage and enjoy, whenever possible, eating three times a day.
Can I live for a year asking this question? As I have lived for more than 3,650 days already asking my question, it’ll be heartbreakingly easy to do so until the day I die.
I’ll ask it until I see that the world has stopped going crazy. Until wild animals run free and are valued and safe. Until each person understands that she is a unique star, and has a blink of time to do whatever dazzling thing she came into this life to do. Until the earth and her relations teach us how to do what we are meant to do: to live, as nature endlessly teaches, in loving interdependence. It would never occur to the tomato plant to think, as it grows, “Hmm, how much can I sell myself for?”
Every person inevitably asks the question, “Why am I here?” I don’t know THE answer, except to say you are here to live wild and free, rising to your soul’s quest. And in my work with over 300 bears, hundreds of companions animals, and more than 3,000 human clients and students, I know what the answer NEVER is. To make money.
And so I’ll let the lawyer know that Phil can have the gold. And it would be ever so kind if he could send checks to me and all my best friends who also have said, screw it, I’m here to make a life worth living, but still have to have make silly amounts money to make art and write and do good work as long as the world is nuts.
I’d also like him to send the bulk of his fortune to every good organization out there (really, a whole bunch should go to Animals Asia and the bears) who are fighting the only good fight there is.
#Quest16 is still open for membership. You might want to try it if you enjoy the company of creative people, art, writing, music and other magical things. I write my head off in December, and it's a very good thing. Because what I say now? That's what I'll be living next year.
With a bow to Jeffrey Davis, the Quest creator, and the only lunatic I know who is brave enough to try to curate all the luscious content.