At 12, I received a Transformer, to be specific, it was Soundwave the tape recorder; it was a toy I had longed for. Unfortunately, shortly after I got it, a friend was trying to transform it and ended up breaking the head off. I reacted in a fit of rage, punching him and knocking him down the stairs. Needless to say, we did not talk for a while after that. But let me tell you the rest of the story of Soundwave, and before you automatically judge me as a psycho, let me explain why I overreacted.

Several months before my birthday, my grandpa was in a car fender bender. He was a cab driver and was rear-ended, an accident that was not his fault. My Paw Paw was always a working-class guy, poor and greasy. He would do plumbing, odd jobs, anything from re-piping a house to replacing a car engine, whatever he could to make some cash. He always smelled like a mix of sweat, gasoline, and mud. In the days following his accident, he arrived home in a neck brace, something you only ever see in movies. When you’re a kid growing up in a house without your father around, your grandpa becomes your hero. I thought my Paw Paw was the strongest man in the world back then, so to see him hurt was shocking. But a couple of weeks later, he came home with a shiny new car, smelling of cologne and with a skinny Jheri curl instead of the puffy George Jefferson Afro-ring I’d always known him to have. His neck brace was gone, and he was wearing fancy sunglasses that he kept on day or night. Suddenly my Paw Paw was cool, and people were gravitating toward him. He had money to spend and he lavished it on the family, myself included.

It was around this time that others in our community followed his example. A couple of weeks later, my older cousin had a car accident and started moving and acting like a high roller, throwing cash at the crap houses – gambling dens located throughout North Omaha that were mostly owned by my other grandpa on my dad’s side, who also owned most of the jitney stands in town. But that wasn’t the end of it. Everywhere we looked, acquaintances and relatives were getting into accidents and collecting cash.

Finally, a few days before my birthday, Mom and her friends got into an accident. I’d wished for Soundwave for a long time, and my mom knew how much it meant to me. I got him as a birthday gift, but my mom wasn’t there to share the moment. Her phone call from the hospital turned what should have been a joyous day into a somber one. Later, I got more Transformers, but it all felt empty. The adults conducted a midweek party, which meant that the living room became a dance floor, and all of us kids had to clean up afterwards. Everyone, including our relatives, was there, alcohol flowed, music bumped, and everyone had fun, but it didn’t feel normal because my mom was not there.

She was awarded a generous settlement for the accident, but it was all gone before Christmas. Years later, I’d find out that there was a fancy white lawyer across town that represented nearly all those clients. I’d always wondered about that, and how all of their cases got settled so quickly. I watched a TV show a little while ago where the lawyer lied to his clients and paid them a portion of their actual settlement and told them that was it and kept the actual amount once it came in, I wonder if that’s what happened to my family? Nearly forty years later I cannot recall a single item my mom bought with that money, but I do remember her not being home on my birthday and me getting Soundwave.

What truly matters in life is not the amount of money we possess, but the people we love and the experiences we share with them. Love, connection, and being with the people who bring us joy should always hold more value than any amount of money. Money may be replaceable, but people are not.

Money is often seen as a necessary evil in our society, but the truth is, it’s not even necessary. Indigenous cultures thrived for millennia without it, proving that it’s possible to live without the constant pursuit of wealth. In fact, money often serves as a tool to keep the classes separate, creating inequalities and dividing people.

While money may be required to meet our basic needs and provide access to important things like healthcare and education, it’s crucial to recognize when the desire for money becomes an unhealthy obsession. When greed takes control, people are willing to do anything to acquire more wealth, even if it means causing harm to others.

We’ve witnessed countless examples of individuals resorting to crimes in pursuit of money. Theft, fraud, embezzlement, and extortion are just a few of the offenses committed for financial gain. In extreme cases, the love of money can even drive people to commit violent acts like robbery, kidnapping, and murder.

One chilling example is the recent news story of a mother and daughter who resorted to murdering and barbecuing the mother’s own mother to prevent their financial misdeeds from being exposed. This horrific act highlights the dangerous consequences that the pursuit of money can have on individuals and their moral compass.

Beyond the extreme cases, the love of money can also lead to more subtle but equally damaging effects. It breeds greed, envy, and a lack of empathy for others. People solely focused on accumulating wealth often prioritize their own interests at the expense of others, leading to unethical practices and a disregard for the well-being of fellow human beings and the environment.

In the end, it’s essential to remember that money is merely a means to an end. Our pursuit of wealth should never come at the cost of our moral integrity or the happiness and welfare of others. Let us prioritize love, connection, and genuine experiences over the empty pursuit of money, for those are the things that truly enrich our lives.