Spring is coming to northern Iowa these days and as the snow and ice recede from the roads my running becomes both easier and faster. Delivery on the promise of Spring is always welcome, an occurrence that awakens the senses as hidden realities emerge from the covers of Winter’s blanket. And much is revealed.
I ran on Monday in the warmest temperatures here in the past four months. The day’s sunshine allowed me to shed several layers of clothing so that even I could create a lightness in strides. My mind wandered- one of the true benefits of running- instead of concentrating on sound footing and ice avoidance. I reflected on the joy of running unfettered and noticed the landscapes surrounding me in ways that I had not done during the snowier, icier times. I noticed those ephemeral “sun dogs” flanking the sun, the rhythmic pattern of my steps.
And three pennies. I could see them arranged in a triangular pattern on the road, two of them shining rather brightly in the rising sun. I wondered if they had simply fallen from a pocket into such a pattern or whether someone might have playfully arranged them for some purpose. I slowed to verify their identity, and continued on. I didn’t even consider stopping to pick them up. Such is the plight of pennies these days, a sad commentary about a currency bearing the likeness of Abraham Lincoln, no less.
But I had not taken more than a dozen strides before I thought about those pennies. At an earlier time in my life I would have experienced utter joy at discovering such a windfall. Stumbling onto someone else’s great loss would have thrilled me. I would have pocketed those coins as surely as the sun shining upon them. For a little person with little income, three pennies is the start of a nickel, which is half of a dime. And we all know that ten of those will get you a dollar!
I noted that my running pace slowed as I tried to remember at what stage of life I had ceased picking up pennies. Oh, I know that circumstances most often dictate whether I will stoop to pick up a once-copper coin, but as often as not the effort does not seem worth it. Did that mindset change once I landed my first job? At some point my life fortunes changed enough to render pennies as unimportant. And while some might regard such a transition as a positive sign of growing affluence, I felt disquieted about the recognition. I’ve come to know many people who could not afford to ignore three pennies in the road; the three pennies might represent as much as 2% of their entire day’s income. They are not children, nor are they individuals who have chosen a life of poverty. In fact, they are some of the most deserving, well-grounded people I have ever met. And so once again I found myself wondering about the fates that place each one of us on this world’s economic spectrum.
In my mind’s eye that spectrum runs from the poorest to the wealthiest of us, and we are all on it somewhere. We’re quite familiar with the people who occupy the very top places on the continuum: names like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are well-known to most around the world. We are far less familiar with some of those who inhabit the other end of that sequence, those for whom three pennies are not to be ignored. And every time I find myself wondering what it might be like to be so fortunate as to reside near the top of this spread of wealth, I realize that there are others looking up that spiral to the place where I reside, wondering the same thing about me.
Yet there exists another dimension of the continuum for me to remember. Looking to the top of the wealth spectrum may be the wrong direction to look in speculating about my life. I may be far better served looking to the other end and wondering what it might be like to reside there, what values and experiences exist there, realities of life which I may never know and which, therefore, limit me.
It’s difficult for me to say whether this incident and reflection will motivate me to pick up a penny from the ground the next time I see one; for better or worse it remains a trifle. But I know with a strange certainty that spotting such a wayward coin will remind me of those who would treasure it. In such consciousness, I fervently hope for a generous spirit and selfless gratitude.
That’s just my own two cents’ worth….