Treasure That Does Not Rust

BY MATTHEW HERBERT

I admit I’m as much a slave to filthy lucre as the next guy.

In fact, I’ve had my mind on my money and my money on my mind a lot recently. It’s probably because of this that I’ve noticed a different kind of wealth accruing right beneath my nose.

I’ve been keeping track these past few months of certain monetary investments that tend to be measured in years. As in, that was a good year for the S&P 500, or that was a crazy good year for real estate.

The salience of year-long segments–the way we almost automatically valuate things over that time period–naturally made me think of the pandemic we are emerging from. Okay, it lasted longer than a year, but looking back, I think you could say that the core of the experience, the uncertainty, the anxiety, the not knowing which way was out, lasted a good, solid year. It did for me.

Obviously, the pandemic had unexpected consequences. Too many to count. But here’s one I was totally unprepared for: I actually acquired a kind of wealth during lockdown that I would never trade away for anything. And I didn’t even notice what it consisted of until I started going back to normal life and I had to start letting go of it.

This is what it was: Togetherness. Every member of my family was constantly gathered under one roof in one another’s company. I know what you’re going to say. Of course it sucked, in numerous ways. We had stress, we occasionally had too much of one another, and we grieved in mutually unintelligible ways the things that were missing from life. We had formless feelings of loss.

But me personally, as a mid-sized mammal responsible for the propagation of the species and the provisioning and protection of the home unit? I had a sense of control I will probably never have again, and with it came better, nobler things like intimacy, familiarity and the discharge of the most important duties. I went to “school” five days a week with my son. Who gets to do that?

Now the family is starting to go off and do their own things, as they will. It is what is supposed to happen, of course, but it’s disorienting. I got so used to the feeling that I was protecting them. It was probably mostly an illusion, but it was part of the experience.

People get used to anything, to paraphrase Camus, and I got used to lots of bad things over the last year. But I gained great stores of wealth too. Twenty twenty was a very good year. I acquired riches that won’t rust or be eaten by moths, or taxed for that matter. I think when I look back on the pandemic I will remember first and foremost the parts I ended up cherishing in a weird way and how I didn’t want to let go of them.

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