Yesterday afternoon I was walking the dog when two little neighborhood girls came sprinting at me up the sidewalk.
“ODESSA’S MOM!” the older one hollered. “IS ODESSA HOME AND CAN WE PLAY WITH HER AND ALSO CAN WE SHOW YOU THE DEAD RATS WE FOUND?”
They were actually squirrels — three hairless, embryonic-looking pinkies with their dark, bulging eyes sealed shut. Two of them were gray, limp and slack-jawed on the cement where they had fallen from their nest in a tree, but the third was vibrating weakly — the smallest, most loose-bound scrap of life. I immediately scooped it up in my tank top and began to run home, the little girls chasing after me.
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITH THAT DEAD RAT?” they wanted to know.
I will spare you what happened after that because it doesn’t matter and involved a lot of Googling. The baby squirrel is at this moment still alive, but who knows? It might die soon. I want it to live, though.
I’ve been thinking lately about currency — how everybody’s got something they’ll work really hard for because they’ve learned it’s valuable. Money is a currency, obviously, but so is physical beauty, political power, intelligence, creativity, strength, attention, a stellar reputation. Human currencies are fickle and motley and as multitudinous as you please.
But something has occurred to me since yesterday’s sweeping squirrel drama: that there is one currency that rules us all, and that is Life. Each of us is a Geiger counter, measuring what lives around us — most of the time without even realizing it. We hunger for it — it’s all that interests us, even as we push it away sometimes. Approaching that hopeless collection of pink, bruised little bags of cells lying on the pavement yesterday, I knew at once which one was still electrified.
I picked up the gold coin off the ground and put it in my pocket.
The way I see it, there are two things you can do with currency: you can save it or you can spend it. You can become as powerful or noticeable or intelligent as you like, and you can sit around being those enviable things if you wish. But I don’t think you can sit on your dragon gold forever — if you have become strong, the world will ask you to use your strength, if you have become wealthy, it will ask you to spend your fortune.
And so here we are: you and me and this little squirrel who is holding on by the most tenuous and dry-rotted fibers, to Life. How did world call you to spend your dragon gold today? How will you spend it tomorrow?