‘You possess only whatever will not be lost in a shipwreck,’ wrote al-Ghazali, most wisely.
Money can be easily lost or can lose its value. Wealth will drain away. Even if you manage to hold it in place, you may well find that the best part of your life has drained away as you worked to make it. You may find that most of your brief stretch as a human has been spent in the company of people you don’t much like, in environments that rot your brain and stun your heart, on activities which feel entirely pointless, and all for the sake of a package – house, car, weekend entertainment, annual holiday – which ultimately fails to satisfy. Then you may well decide that there are more valuable commodities than money, such as, of course, health, tranquility, and time.
Money has never been a priority for me. But I am not an ascetic. Often I’ve wished for more money. I’ve sometimes been resentful that I couldn’t afford more expensive restaurants or more luxurious travel arrangements. I’ve always gazed longingly upon but have never sat down with the largely framed, well-padded, expensively dressed, pale-skinned consumers at those oysters-and-champagne bars in airports. Occasionally I’ve been genuinely worried about making ends meet. But none of this means I’m in any way deprived.
I am experience rich. I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve had plenty of uncomfortable but unforgettable and frequently awe-inspiring experiences. I’ve camped in the hills and deserts of North Africa and southern Arabia. I’ve been up and down the Karakoram Highway on buses with no suspension driven by spliff-smoking loons. I’ve shared beds with bed bugs and used toilets which cannot be clearly described in decent print. I’ve eschewed tourism in favour of long-term residence in many different cities. I speak three languages well and several others more or less. I’ve read more than most people. I’ve climbed more mountains. But I have less in the bank. As Louis Armstrong said, ‘I never tried in no way to ever be real filthy rich like some people do, and after they do they die just the same.’