Pennies from Heaven

Pennies from Heaven

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

Pennies from Heaven

I met a man who picks up pennies he finds on the ground because
he says they’re government property.
I pick them up because I see them as signs from angels to
let us know they’re around.

~Carmen Rutlen

Years ago, when our finances were less than ideal, I took a job vacuuming the halls and carpeted stairwells of our run-down condominium building. Work is work, and I told myself it was honest work. But it wasn’t what I’d imagined myself doing for employment and it dented my pride.

It was certainly difficult work; the portable vacuum weighed twenty pounds and the condominium hallways were mostly stairs, twelve staircases in all, three flights up each. Six staircases a day was all I could manage. Stirred up dirt and dust clung to my skin, sweaty from hauling the vacuum up and down the airless staircases, and there were days when self-pity and wounded pride made the vacuum weigh even more.

On a day that had been particularly hard, when my pride tweaked with every cigarette butt and piece of trash I picked up, I hauled my portable vacuum up the stairs and asked God, in a tone more rueful than meditative, to give me something, anything, to perk up my sagging spirit.

On the third floor, nearly hidden in the crevice where the frayed carpet met the wall, glinted a shiny penny. “This?” I asked God. “This is what you give me?” I sighed, but I pocketed the penny and didn’t give it much thought beyond that.

Curiously, pennies began to turn up each time I vacuumed the halls. They hadn’t been there in the months before as I’d vacuumed up dried-up leaves and crumpled gum wrappers. But now, each time, there was a penny. One penny only. It became a game to me, wondering where and when the lone penny would turn up. Always, before the job was completed, there would be that one coin, as if it were waiting for me. I started to say a thank you to God each time I retrieved the penny and pocketed it, and began to think of these small, found treasures as my pennies from heaven.

I didn’t tell anyone. There are pennies everywhere, right? Considered outdated, what is a penny but a useless coin that doesn’t buy anything in this expensive age? The condo-cleaning job was the least of the hardships visited upon me in the last few years, and pennies weighed against family misfortunes and ill luck seemed small change, indeed.

Still, it gave me a jolt of renewed hope each time I spotted one—and more often than not, that hope alone was enough for me.

Finances improved and we moved, and my two children blossomed in their new neighborhood. Life uninterrupted by adversity was welcome, if surprising. Occasionally I picked up a penny when I found it, thanking God in what had now become a knee-jerk response.

When I found myself pregnant with twins, I viewed it as the mother lode of rewards for having survived the previous years so well. When the ultrasound revealed them to be healthy baby girls, I named them Anne and Grace. I grew so huge over the next eight months, there was no more bending down to pick up anything, much less a mere penny.

When I was in early labor, the final ultrasound revealed their perfect feet, the sweet curve of their rumps, and the delicate rope of their spines. And then the flat silent discs that proved to be their unbeating hearts. They had died the night before. In the following hours before they were delivered I knew that my thinking of them as a reward had been only a cosmic joke of some sort, or more likely the imagination of a childish heart.

For months afterwards, the only prayers I offered up were enraged shouts at the kitchen ceiling, and finally even those ceased. What good is yelling at a God who doesn’t care, doesn’t hear, or more likely, doesn’t exist.

The numbness that replaced the anger made it nearly impossible to navigate my daily life. I forgot whatever it was I had once cared for and even tried to make lists of what I loved. I’d loved my other children, hadn’t I? Only now their demands and need for comfort seemed overwhelmingly large. I tried smaller lists. Hadn’t I liked old books, flea markets, stolen moments with my husband? Didn’t I once enjoy lunches out with friends? My funny little dog? It didn’t help, and I forgot the lists, forgot my own name once when it was asked, and forgot as well any reason to continue living.

One day, while waiting for my son’s karate class to end, I heard a mother call to her daughter. “Annie,” she said, and a chubby blond toddler came tumbling into her arms. I fled for the hallway, and as I tried to gain control of myself, I happened to glance down. There on the carpet was a penny. I just stared at it. A penny?

I picked it up.

After that, pennies began to turn up everywhere. Almost every day but always just one. In odd places. In the rooms of my house where I had just walked before, a penny would suddenly be shining up from the middle of the room. In the waiting room of a doctor’s office, outside my mailbox, in the school parking lot as I stepped out of my car. I began to pocket them again, slowly, numbly, and I began again to thank God each time.

My small frequent thanks to God made me question what I was thanking him for—my nine-year-old son slipping his hand into mine, a funny note from my daughter, evening walks with my husband, soup from a friend, even a kind smile from a grocery clerk. I looked up one morning and noticed the blue of the springtime sky. I noticed the rich taste of my morning cup of coffee. I began to be grateful just to be alive.

It occurred to me that maybe God doesn’t always choose to speak in dramatic ways; maybe a burning bush isn’t his calling card to everyone.

Just maybe, for some, a single penny gleaming in an unexpected place is his touch of grace, his gift of hope. And sometimes that hope is just enough.

~Susan Clarkson Moorhead

Chicken Soup for Every Mom’s Soul

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