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The musical comedian Bo Burnham (whose career started on YouTube) describes this phenomenon very well: Don't take advice from guys like me who've gotten very lucky. Taylor Swift telling you to follow your dreams is like a lottery winner saying 'Liquidize your assets! A trip to his village 25 kilometres away becomes a logistical nightmare. Imagine having to lug stacks of bound hay bales or weighted weapons in order to, literally, get your daily bread. We've all seen pictorial evidence from developing countries. There's Fred the fake T-shirt dude with his amazingly sturdy pedal pushbike. The 200 bags of knock-off T-shirts are stacked precariously, ready to topple. Often you'll find the faithful co-worker perched dangerously on the handlebars trying to steady it all. It's a testament to the human spirit that we'll always find a way of survival, earning our daily bread with whatever worn-out tools may be at hand. In the evolution of money though, it became clear that breaking your back wasn't sustainable. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. I point out in my opening remarks that one reason this psalm is recited almost universally at Jewish and Christian funerals is obvious. In it, the psalmist imagines death as a sort of peaceful eternal existence, like lying in a green pasture beside still waters--a beautiful metaphor for the deepest peace. But there are two more nuanced and very powerful reasons I think this psalm has become so much a part of funerals and memorials. They are both found in the familiar verse Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me. First, the poet reminds us that we can and will walk through the dark valley that is death and grief. Our media rarely shows people setting limits, asking for help, or devoting their lives to the things that make them feel happy and safe. Of course, it's much harder to tell a story about a happy person with a fulfilling, healthy life than it is to show violence, toil, and struggle.

Strong, independent heroes are captivating to so many of us because we long to have the power and dedication they possess. As much as I'm troubled by the themes in many of these stories, I still get a rush from watching John Wick murder throngs of enemies with only a library article and sheer force of will. Still, there's a real social cost to the fact that we're taught time and time again that we should never give up or ask for help, when there are many times that a person needs and deserves a break. It's not just popular media that teaches us to work relentlessly without stopping. Our modern-day educational system was formulated during the Industrial Revolution, and was designed to train students for employment in warehouses and manufacturing plants. There are rigid schedules and arbitrary deadlines that don't take into account what else is going on in a student's life. Absences or changes in the routine can get a child in trouble. Far easier was to have traded goods or services represented by tokens. Sometimes these were engraved with specific symbols portraying the item in question. Other times those standard tokens became agreed amounts or weights personifying the value of the items in question. But commodities weren't and aren't always equal in value. An example being that a weapon was always worth multiple times the token required for a loaf of bread. Historically speaking, delivering death took priority over food delivery. You'd have to do one in order to procure a logistical supply chain for the other. I remember stumbling across old tales in my 10 years working for Contiki in Europe: stories suggesting even beer was considered a token for tender. With time, with memory, with prayer, with candles, with stories retold, with reaching out and reaching in, we find a way back into the light. We can be scarred forever, but still, we can summon an amazing capacity to move forward despite our very real losses and pain. Nearly all of us somehow find a way to walk through the valley, we do not remain there forever. But getting through it is not even the most profound meaning to be found in the metaphor of the valley of the shadow of death. A shadow can exist only because of light that--even if partially obstructed by a mountain, a tree, or our grief--somehow nevertheless still shines.

Love is that light, shining through memory, illuminating and reminding me of so many things about my dad; Children who struggle to focus or sit still for eight hours are treated as problems to be minimized. Students who aren't naturally gifted in a subject are given less attention and support; Some people thrive in the standard academic environment. Those of us who have an easy time sitting still and following directions can flourish, receiving praise and encouragement every step of the way. However, a large number of young people are instead given the message that they're not good enough, don't work hard enough, and are destined for failure. At Loyola University Chicago, the students I teach are working adults. Many of them enrolled in college as eighteen- or nineteen-year-olds, but then something got in the way of their graduating on time. They got pregnant, fell ill, or had to quit school to take care of a dying parent. Sometimes they just couldn't focus on school or didn't see the point in it. Unfortunately, many of my students absorbed the idea that they're to blame for the challenges they faced. Some criminals convicted of capital crimes would forfeit or be forced to make liquid amber payment by the barrel to victims' families as a form of compensation. Anything could be used really, so long as it was mutually recognised: whales' teeth, feathers or smooth stones are all documented among the earliest forms of 'dough', our daily bread also becoming a moniker for money. Amassing tokens became associated with wealth and power. These 'coins' became intrinsically linked to monetary tangible value in their own right due to the nature of the materials used: silver and gold. Paper money coincided with the invention of block printing, circa 1200 CE. The Chinese figured they could keep real coins safe from theft under lock and key in vaults at the palace. It's said that Marco Polo brought the idea of paper money back with him to Italy. In the 1600s, paper money became standard in European banking systems with the British pound dominating. Next, I often share an old story to try to help people understand why we gather for a funeral.

On the surface of it, it's just a simple tale about two large ships, one entering the harbor, the other leaving. According to the story, a huge crowd on the pier was giving the outgoing ship a tremendous send-off, while the incoming ship slipped into the harbor entirely unnoticed. A sage on the pier scolded the crowd, saying, Don't celebrate the ship setting out to sea. Pointing to the incoming vessel, he said, Turn around, notice, appreciate, and celebrate that ship that has traveled so well and so long and finally come home safely. Of course, this is not a story about two ships at all. When a baby is born, everyone celebrates, although the truth is that we have no idea what destiny awaits that child as it makes its way through life. And it is also true that when a person dies, we often express mostly sorrow and remorse. Many think they were just too lazy to finish school the first time around. A few years ago, I was approached after class by an adult student named Maura. She had a couple of facial piercings and dyed hair--just like me. She had just gotten a new tattoo and wanted to show it to me. We talked for a bit about piercing and tattoos, and concerts we'd been to; As soon as Maura realized this, she immediately started berating herself for having not done much with her life compared to me. She did it in a joking way, but I could tell it was coming from a place of genuine insecurity. I do a similar thing when I discover a successful person who's younger than me. Governance created the standard lines of text that 'promised to pay the bearer on demand' the appropriate sum indicated. Paper was far easier to carry than weighted bags of coins, even if, by this time, some coins had been replaced by cheaper, lighter base metals worth intrinsically far less than the face value of the coin itself. The power and rule of European currency, in particular British pounds, were to be toppled from their number one spot. Colonists in the New World were forced to pay excessive taxes while simultaneously being disadvantaged in access to British pounds. They rebelled in 1773 in the form of the infamous Boston Tea Party, which was the catalyst for a patriotic uprising.

The loss of potential territory amid an ever-expanding empire was a princely sum indeed to the bloated, stingy Brits. But American independence (1776) was a catalyst that ultimately cost the British far more -- the balance of monetary power -- and the US economy and currency (the dollar) became a main player. The 'gold standard' was born as a system to protect value. Any wad of paper constituting currency was directly linked to a fixed amount in gold, thus further reducing risk or exposure through mechanisms of counterfeit or fraud. The ancient sages who told that tale were trying to teach us that we often have things backward. The life to be appreciated, uplifted, and celebrated is the life of a person who has traveled well and long through both stormy waters and calm, beautiful seas, and has finally arrived home safely. I use this story not in the rare instances of tragic or premature death, but for the far more common death of someone who has lived a long and full life. I use the story to remind everyone there that the stories we are about to tell are a reflection of a beautiful life and legacy--a successful journey to be celebrated despite our tears. I recently came across another metaphor for life and death that I love. It's modern and involves a car instead of two ships, and it's every bit as true. A friend of mine read it at his father's funeral after he poured some whiskey into the grave. Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. After the eulogies have been delivered, there is a final physical letting go, the carrying and the lowering of the casket. Because I've been taught to constantly measure my accomplishments and see how they stack up against somebody else's, I feel threatened when a person seems to be ahead of me, yet I don't tend to evaluate other people's lives in that way. I started asking Maura about what she'd been doing throughout her twenties. I learned that she'd managed a large retail store for several years while taking classes part-time and raising a child. She also had several roommates, all of whom were younger than her, and often found herself falling into the mom role for them. She had to drive them to work when their cars broke down and look after them when they got sick. On top of all that, Maura's ex-husband was in the military, and for years Maura had traveled with him, unable to find a job on the bases where they lived. Maura had clearly lived a rich, responsibility-filled life.