I'm thinking of something that -- like it or not -- plays a major role in our lives, particularly at this time of year. Long ago we doled it out in coins, which is appropriate since it possesses a decidedly two-sided nature. It both creates and destroys. We lust after it but then also scorn it as filthy. It has been called the source of all evil, but it is also the means by which we acquire things we consider good.
You can stack its paradoxes as high as a rich man's wealth. It weighs the heaviest on us when we have too little of it, but a great amount does not necessarily set one free. It is an easy way to keep score, and yet everyone leaves this life with the same amount with which they arrived. We believe that things like love or friendship transcend it, but then we often rely on it to express those very feelings.
It is most dangerous when invisible, when a mere keystroke propels massive amounts of it across the planet at the speed of light, or when the swipe of a plastic card creates possession and debt in one simultaneous instant.
But although we may not be able to see it, it is convivial. After all, it is a form of exchange and we have particular disdain for those who remove it from the marketplace and simply hoard it. It is a social creature in a cliquish sort of way. It has the annoying habit of preferring the company of its own kind and actively shuns those places where it is in short supply. This is one way of explaining why the rich get richer.
I am, or course, talking about money. It surrounds us like water does a fish. We may resent it, but there is no greater proof of its central place in our existence than this: we have a special word for those things we consider the most important, the most valuable and significant in our lives. We set them apart from everything else by describing them simply as priceless.