PLANTED IN PENNIES
Do you remember the old rhyme “Find a penny pick it up all the day you’ll have good luck”?
Does anyone pick up a penny any more?
Do most of us dismiss a copper glint on the sidewalk as unworthy of our effort?
Seeing a penny and picking it up has always been an enchanting surprise for me. My sister would tease me that no one else would notice a penny on the sidewalk or bother to pick it up. She would chide me about the “good luck” superstition. I would just laugh and say “Little things can change your day if you let them”.
Robert Frost wrote about that unexpected moment that transforms the day:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I rued.
These random occurrences while they are surprising, it remains our choice whether they delight or annoy.
In a list of funny ways of thinking about the isolation experience one of the observations wasn’t funny at all. It said, “You are not stuck at home. You are safe at home. One word can change your attitude, one cough can change your life.”
Scientists use something in their work called a ‘search image’. It is about the critical event or object where they focus their attention. So, if they were intent on finding a certain species of monkey in a jungle they might miss entirely the snake in the tree.
Finding a penny, a single word. search images, does it really matter? Annie Dillard in her Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, tells about how as a girl she would hide a penny somewhere along a sidewalk near her house. She wouldn’t wait to see who picked it up and would forget about it until once again she was “gripped by the impulse to hide another penny”. Her need to hide a penny and perhaps provide the surprise and joy that might alter a stranger’s day is charming and full of an innocence of spirit. I wonder whether there are others out there anonymously planting of pennies.
These days can be a tumble of confusion. They can be mind and spirit numbing. To survive we may become insensitive to statistics and death counts, to losses and grief over so many missing parts of our old lives. For some, it turns to anger, for others despair, and still, others are energized to create new projects and to reunite with what family means. Regardless of how we are managing these days deep inside each of us are questions: what and when and how.
So in a wasteland of missing parties and gatherings and workdays and people comes this moment. This moment when unable to control all the aspects of life that have changed and will continue to change we are given the opportunity to put ourselves in the path of light. To decide how we will make a celebration of our days.
As Annie Dillard writes “will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is simple. What you see is what you get.”
All these wise words, all this to remind us that there are all kinds of ways to make a day that was worth living. Worth our precious minutes and hours. whether we are hiding a penny for someone else to find or leaving our mind and heart open to what may surprise us and change the essence of the day.
As we sum up our day in diaries and journals or moments of reflection at evening we may be recounting hardships and fears, worries and stress, but perhaps we can add, but I found a penny today. I wonder as I write this will I find a penny today. I don’t know and that is how the adventure begins.
*Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinkers Creek. Harper and Row Publishers