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“Despite the synergine the Count’s eyes were going shocked and vague. He pawed at the little plastic oxygen mask, batted away the medic’s worried attempt to control his hands, and motioned urgently to Mark. He so clearly wanted to say something, it was less traumatic to let him than to try and stop him. Mark slid onto his knees by the Count’s head.
“The Count whispered to Mark in a tone of earnest confidence, ‘All . . . true wealth . . . is biological.'” — Lois McMasters Bujold, Mirror Dance
The Count is Aral Vorkosikan. Mark is his son, Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, a clone of Aral’s son Miles by his wife Cordelia Vorkosigan. Miles was the only son, until Mark, created as part of an attempt to assassinate Aral appeared on the scene. Mark rebelled against his creators but does not trust his family. Circumstances left Mark dumped like a feral cat in the lap of his family. They, despite his sketchy origins, have embraced him as one of their own. At this point, Mark is unsure whether he wants to be embraced.
At this point in the story, Aral has suffered a massive and potentially fatal heart attack. Mark believes he may be hearing his father’s last words. In these stories, Aral had been regent of the three-planet Barayaran Empire, a job he could have parlayed into becoming Emperor, a job with the power of the Russian Czar. Instead, he walked away from that handing the reins to the legitimate boy emperor, Gregor. If any man knows about wealth, it is Aral Vorkosigan.
I spent a week earlier this month with my 90-year-old mother in Ann Arbor, MI. She still lives in the condo she and my late father bought in the 1980s. I spent Thanksgiving with my oldest son and his family in Dallas. For me, both visits underscore the wisdom of Aral’s observation – all true wealth, indeed, is biological.
For my mom, the only thing she really treasures is her family: her three sons, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. My brothers and I – who all live in different states than my mom – have been alternating visits to her this fall. (I plan to return this spring.) She has a lot of things, but as her life winds down, what matters is time spent with her family. She cannot use three-quarters of the home she now occupies due to her limited mobility, but remains because it represents many memories of her family. (The place is filled with pictures of us and the artwork we created over the years.)
Despite the protests by her sons, she begrudges money spent on herself, preferring to keep as much of her capital intact to pass onto her family. (We’d rather she spend it on herself, and one brother, who controls spending, ensures she does not stint on necessary care.)
With my visit to my son, the first in nearly a year thanks to the Covid panic, I saw the other end of the story. My granddaughter is now two-and-a-half and has transformed from an infant into a toddler, with a marvelously large vocabulary (giraffe! elephant! shark! raccoon!). (She’s very good with nouns at least.) We had Thanksgiving dinner at my daughter-in-law’s sister’s house with five households present (me, my eldest son’s, my youngest son’s my daughter-in-law’s sister’s, and my oldest’s mother-in-law). Only my middle son was missing; that only because his wife, with cracked ribs, was not up to the road trip from San Antonio to Dallas. (By Christmas she should be able to travel.) It was comfortably normal and delightfully subversive. It was wonderful.
Despite my career accomplishments as an engineer, despite writing and seeing published nearly 40 books, nothing means as much to me as my family. They are my real wealth, and they and their descendants are the only things that will really endure once I am gone. Bujold is right. All true wealth is biological.Published in