The reason The Belgian Wonder and I could take off for that getaway–the first official trip in 14 years of parenting (the only other one was a camping trip six or seven years ago and ranks low in romantic getaway power)–was that The Belgian Wonder’s parents were here from, well, Belgium. They stayed with the children while we flew to Florida!We felt bad leaving; we were torn, actually. We wanted to maximize time with them ourselves, but this was our one chance to pull off this trip, as babysitting arrangements have consistently fallen apart at the last minute every other time we’ve planned something.So we went. And then we came back and enjoyed a few more days of socializing with The Belgian Wonder’s wonderful folks. In the happy hubbub of all the interacting here at our house, I wasn’t able to tell you a little airport story.We were in the Tampa airport on our way to the gate when we passed a pole that formed a visual corner to a little snack place. A triangle of tile flooring met up with some carpeting at the foot of that pole, and on that triangle of tile sat a penny.I always stop and pick up pennies. But one time a few years ago I stooped over to pick up a coin only to discover that it had been glued to the concrete as a joke. Since then, I put my foot on the coin to see if it will move before bending over.I set my cute shoe on the coin, and the penny scooted across the tile. So I bent down and picked it up.”Oh, look!” I said delightedly to The Belgian Wonder, “it’s a wheat penny!” I flipped it to the front to see the date: 1920. “You don’t see these very often anymore.” I stuck it in my pocket.”Cool,” said The Belgian Wonder, mildly impressed.We decided we had enough time to turn back and use the restrooms before settling down in the vinyl chairs, so we passed the pole and took turns waiting with the bags outside the facilities.Then we walked past that pole again and there on the triangle of tile sat another penny!”Hey! Look!” I exclaimed, pointing. “Another one! In the same spot…wait a minute…hm…” I spun around to see if I could see a camera or a suspicious looking person. Was this an experiment to see if anyone stops to pick up pennies anymore? Or is this how some bored businessman passes the time in airports, waiting to see how long it takes for someone to notice it? Was someone taking a video? I was in a quandary…should I take it? Leave it?I left it, but then sat in the chairs by the gate wondering about it. What was that about? How would I change the results if I went back?”Should I go get that penny?” I asked The Belgian Wonder.”It’s up to you,” he said.”I think I should go,” I said.”I wouldn’t,” he replied, “but that’s just me.”I didn’t go back.But I kept thinking about Annie Dillard. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she describes how, as a child, she hid pennies for people to find in the roots of a sycamore or in a hole left by a chipped off piece of sidewalk. Then she would draw big arrows with chalk pointing to the treasure. When she could write, she labeled the arrows “Surprise ahead!” or “Money this way!” She was greatly excited by the whole process of hiding and waiting for the lucky passer-by to follow the signs and find the penny. Then she ponders at an adult level:
There are many things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go on 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 that simple. What you see is what you get. [found typed out here]
I love that whole thing. “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.”And, “What you see is what you get.”What you see is what you get.Are we so malnourished and fatigued that we miss the treasures in our path every single day? Are we unable to see anymore? Or do we simply not care about a little copper penny?My friend Ruth Vaughn wrote a book called Letters Dropt from God, the title taken from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass:
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name
She tells how she sees so many ways God seems to be communicating with her. She’ll notice some small gift, a “letter dropt from God,” left for her to see. Some beautiful tree or a phone call at just the right moment of need. These small “letters” help her feel that He is working in her life, assuring her of His presence and love.She learned to see. And what she saw, was was she got: gifts from God, daily, recorded in a journal.I wrote a post not long ago about beauty, when reporting on Katherine Paterson’s message at the Festival of Faith & Writing.I asked:
I wonder if you agree that we need beauty?Do you feel that our children need to be nourished on beauty?If so, what kind of beauty?Do you do anything proactively to bring beauty into their lives?
In the comments, Prairie Chick said:
I am a firm believer in our need for beauty, but I also am a firm believer that we never have to search far to find it. We have been over indulged in our society and miss the simple beauty that inspired all other beauty to begin with. We are so surrounded by blaring, glaring, busy-ness that we are desensitized to the beauty of the wind in the leaves, the clouds in the sky, the contrast of lady bug red against fern green. Heck, I find beauty in mud bogs and marshes and faded red paint on old barn walls. Viva la bellezza naturale!
She sees it. Every day, everywhere. Similarly, LLBarkat wrote:
Oh, absolutely. Now, as to where they might find it, the world is wide open. Beauty all around. I like to tell them, “there’s a glimpse, a taste, a texture of God in [whatever it is]…”
It’s all around us whether we notice it or not, that simple beauty. Everywhere there’s that glimpse of God in what He’s made, if we can see it…every day, a bit of copper gleaming in our path.I don’t know who left the wheat penny. I don’t know what they were doing. But I’m glad I stopped to pick it up. Finding a literal penny reminds me to look for all the figurative pennies cast broadside by a generous hand…to see them all…to stoop and pick them up.Thank you, whoever you are. You made my day.I hope that by leaving the second one, I made someone else’s day.I hope that somebody saw it.I hope that somebody wasn’t too “malnourished and fatigued” to bother stooping to pick it up.Does anyone other than a six-year-old child (and Ann Kroeker) get excited by a mere penny?