It is an honor to be called "Daniel's best friend" in this gripping book about him. The author, Mark Sundeen, recounts how Daniel Suelo learned to live abundantly by rejecting our cultural beliefs about money. Daniel and I were roommates at the University of Colorado 25 years ago and have remained close ever since, living in the same tiny town in the desert. So the stories in this book are familiar and dear to me. Sundeen describes Daniel's many adventures with vivid detail and incredulous mirth, letting the reader decide if he is a Prophet for our times or just a lovable, amusing and interesting bum. In my opinion, Sundeen makes a serious case for how Suelo contends for the Dos Equis beer title of "the most interesting man in the world," as he barely wins all-out fistfights with Death and personal demons on glaciers in Alaska, in a monastery in Thailand, high in a redwood tree in Oregon, in a remote village in Ecuador, and finally atop one of Colorado's highest peaks.
Sundeen also captured the highlights of each major stage in Daniel's spiritual life, showing his growth from an enthusiastic fundamentalist to a serious Old Testament scholar to a mystical cultural anthropologist to a gifted student of world religion to a disillusioned social worker to a desert naturalist to a beloved hobo to a profound visionary in our troubled economic times. Moreover, Sundeen paints Daniel's portrait against the canvas of recent social and financial trends in America. He interrelates trickle-down Reaganomics, the rise of neo-Conservatism, the Religious Right and multinational corporations with the Occupy movement, the Rainbow gathering, environmental activism, social welfare programs, the growing rich-poor gap and "freegans" around the world. Before reading this book, it never occurred to me how Daniel's life has consistently reflected the zeitgeist of our age.
Sundeen's compact writing style captures with elegant detail and juicy phrases the experiences, people, emotions and philosophies that have guided Daniel's lifelong quest. To summarize Teilhard de Chardin in a page or two is a feat of literary genius. Similarly, the influence of Professor Brian Mahan on our mutual spiritual development, evidenced by the reading list for his Psychology of Religion class, cannot be overestimated. Sundeen artfully portrays him and the other characters I know, illustrating their dignity and wisdom with appropriate humor and their foibles and frustrations with kindness.
For readers interested in picayune details, here are the few inaccuracies related to my role in Daniel's life, none of which detracted from the story: 1) The Russian chess player Igor Ivanov who spent the whole night drinking vodka and arguing politics with Matthew was not just a master but an international grandmaster, the strongest chess player ever to live in Utah. 2) I was living in California when my ex-girlfriend Linda awoke at three in the morning with a house full of smoke and a small fire burning through the floor where Daniel and Matthew left a candle unattended. She was livid the next day, especially because the imported rug had been a very sentimental gift from my mother. Expecting an apology from Daniel, instead she received a rebuke about being too attached to material objects. To this day she accuses me of taking Daniel's side over hers, so the emotional tension portrayed by Sundeen is quite accurate, showing the reader that some rough spots existed in Daniel's path toward becoming the compassionate sadhu he is today.
But 3) Linda and I did not split up over this incident. Also, 4) the coffee-table that covered the hole in the rug was not Daniel's attempt to hide his mistake, as the text implies, but my own humorous solution for "fixing" the whole situation several weeks later. Finally, 5) the verb "to hump" is not in my vocabulary, according to my wife, and I am embarrassed by the quotation attributed to me. If I said something like it in our whirlwind 3-hour interview I apologize to the reader and to Mark. But again Sundeen's main point is completely correct, highlighting the awkwardness between two sensual young men, one gay and one heterosexual, who truly love each other after many years of deep friendship and intentional celibacy through college.
The remainder of this review adds details to the book, filling out little parts of Daniel's story that feel important to me, thus completing Sundeen's nearly perfect book.
1) We had a third college roommate who committed suicide two years after leaving Boulder for California. His completely unexpected death had an enormously painful impact on both of us, as well as others in the circle of friends like Dawn and Rebecca. In dark and mysterious ways his suicide contributed to Daniel's own deep despair about life, especially because it had undercurrents of emerging homosexual feelings against a protestant belief system. For many of us in the Boulder community, Daniel's later attempt was a second sign that American society had become too poisonous for beautiful, complex souls to endure.
2) I had hoped to see some of Daniel's original artwork reprinted in the book, because his images are even more moving than his words. Especially his pen and ink renderings, and the drawings he created while in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. Maybe somebody will take them out of my guest room closet, scan them, and with Daniel's permission put them online for the whole world to see.
3) The music and poetry of the Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn was a big part of our college years, and in many ways Suelo's adventures -- mental, emotional, spiritual and physical -- have paralleled Cockburn's. The rock band U2 was also important to our spiritual development.
4) Because of his keen mind and scholarly background, Daniel has been asked to edit the works of other authors in fields like anthropology, archaeoastronomy, sociology and religion. He perceives, thinks and talks much like the mystical anthropologist Joseph Campbell, and so his feedback is cherished.
5) My wife Dorina Krusemer-Nash observed, "When I first met Daniel we didn't get along and frankly I didn't like him. He was depressed, sullen and bitter. But when he came back to Moab, after finally quitting money, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off of his spirit, and he was light, energetic and funny." Dorina's perspective brings up an enormous social issue: What is the relationship between rampant, clinical depression, our mass addiction to anti-depressant medications, and economic injustice in a capitalistic society? What toll does it take on each of us, and on our world, when so many of us feel forced into a lifetime of near slavery wages to pay for groceries, health care and (if lucky enough) a mortgage?
The book is great! Buy it and enjoy it. Regarding Daniel himself, my personal conclusion was published on the Matador Change website in 2009, after an article that openly wondered if Daniel was a "mooch" on society. Although the question raised my hackles, the posts on that article were noticeably less hostile and more thoughtful than posts to other online articles, so Daniel and I both contributed to the thread. Because the "mooching" question is the first reaction so many people have when they read about him, I conclude this review with a heartfelt response:
"Although Daniel tries never to barter, at one level he does participate in the same kind of barter system known for centuries to Franciscan and Buddhist monks. His mere presence in our house adds rich value to the quality of life that my wife and I enjoy. He brings peace with him wherever he goes. We adore him, and so do all of our animals, whom he often 'babysits' when we travel. You could even say our many dozens of organic fruit and nut trees adore Daniel. He has helped prune and cultivate them over the years, thoroughly enjoyed long afternoon naps in a hammock in their fragrant shade, and savored their bounty with a kind of deep, mystical appreciation that few of us humans ever really feel.
"If anyone could call Daniel a 'mooch' it would be me and Dorina because our home (and refrigerator) are always and unconditionally open to him. Yet we have never felt mooched, or taken advantage of. Quite the opposite, we look forward to his arrivals, feel enriched during his stays and, like our dogs, we are saddened by his departures. After wiping a few counters, we often find extra food he left behind. Daniel is not a weight on society, holding us all back, making us work harder to support his loafing, as the word 'mooch' implies. Instead, he is more like a quiet angel who asks for nothing, but lifts us all up gently with his peacefulness, kindness, cantankerous humor and nature-based wisdom.
"Maybe it's time to turn around the question of 'mooching.' How many people in the world who enjoy great material wealth also have an endless supply of love, wisdom, inner peace and happiness that they share freely with everyone around them? Daniel has made many brave decisions and great personal sacrifices in his life to follow Christ's teachings and trust the Holy Spirit to guide him. As a result, he has become a visionary and saintly person, a humble hobo who happens to have direct, broadband access to God. Now the rest of us get to 'mooch' off of his free internet wi-fi connection to heaven whenever he is around."