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Laurits Andersen Ring — At Breakfast, 1889.

Having little, he cried.

The gods took pity on him and gave him the tiniest portion of their wealth, causing him to become rich beyond his imagination.

Thieves, schemers and false friends arrived.

Barricading himself behind strong walls, he cried.

~ Domo Geshe Rinpoche

*

Here are 7 things my father taught me by example.

Do beautiful things, just for the sake of it. If you love orchids, build a greenhouse full of them in the basement. If you love the sound of French, learn to speak it fluently, even though you rarely have time to visit France. If you love organic chemistry, spend your Sundays reading “orgo” textbooks.

Find work you love and work that matters, and do it as excellently as you can.

Make a life where you’re as free as possible from the forces of dogma, orthodoxy, and bureaucracy.

— Susan Cain

My parents were as poor as the proverbial church mice when they married. The depression was in full swing at the time. Their ancestors had always been poor all the way back to Moses and beyond. But my father, who was born under the Chinese sign of the fire horse, was a force to be reckoned with. He never cared about being rich, he just wanted to support his family and see them get educated. He got rich accidentally, and all his children inherited.

Of course, that’s when the real trouble started. I can’t speak for the others, but for me it was good trouble.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel, work at art, live in France, make a lot of mistakes and learn more lessons than usual since I didn’t have to hold down a job just to eat. I arrive at my dotage having survived my naïveté, some might say my stupidity. The gods have been forgiving in my case.

All of us grew up to have our challenges, and most of us lost an incredible amount of money in the process. We didn’t come from old money, knowing instinctively how to keep it. We were nouveau riche, rubes in the world of finance.

I see my family and its story as a drama of the soul, acted out blindly but according to what each individual needed to learn. I personally feel blessed to have had a continuous stream of lessons that show no sign of stopping as I enter my eighth decade on the planet. It’s been quite a ride. A lot of beauty has been created and is still being created even now in reduced circumstances.

Doing what you really love in life, living with someone you really love, is a life well lived, in my opinion. Having money can be agreeable but it comes with its own problems. Unless you are living true to your innate reason for existing, money can be as much of a prison as poverty, believe it or not. The main thing is to be your essential self.

Possessions and ease can capture your spirit too, separating you from the common concerns of most people. It’s astonishing how out of touch our politicians are with what it takes to keep our head above water in America. A let-them-eat-cake attitude seems to be the rule rather than the exception among our elected representatives.

And American is behind the other first world countries in economic justice and general care of the population. It’s an unnecessarily cruel system, but it seems normal to most of us. Will we grow up and realize we have to care for others — all others?

There really is no other way forward, is there?

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