60: A Penny from Heaven

60: A Penny from Heaven

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

A Penny from Heaven

Put a penny in your shoe, you’ll have good luck all day through.

~Old childhood chant

“It will take a miracle to get me through this day,” I muttered, dragging myself from my bed. Fumbling through the bathroom cabinet drawer, I located a thermometer and put it in my mouth. Oh, no. A shade over 101 degrees. I stared at my flushed face in the mirror, and fought back an urge to burst into tears.

No doubt about it, I was doomed! At thirty-nine, I’d received a tentative acceptance to UCLA’s graduate school of social work. Whether I’d actually be admitted might hinge on my scores on the Graduate Record Examination. This day was the last possible opportunity for me to take it. I’d have to drive to Westwood, thirty miles north on crowded freeways. The previous day my doctor had diagnosed a kidney infection and prescribed antibiotics.

“Get plenty of rest,” she’d cautioned. “Don’t stress yourself.”

Great advice, I thought, struggling into jeans and sweatshirt and slipping on a pair of loafers. I promised myself I’d try to remain calm.

As I chugged up the I-405N, I realized I’d have to pull over somewhere along the way. One of the symptoms of my ailment required frequent pit stops.

Oh, no, I fretted. How would I ever make it through a four-hour-long examination?

At that moment I realized that my husband had left for work without handing me my lucky penny. From the time we’d met at a community college twenty years earlier, this had been our little ritual. Before every test, every job interview, every negotiation, from buying a used car to leasing an apartment, Bob would hand me a penny. And I’d put it in my shoe for good luck.

We’d always believed that it was double luck, too, if the penny had been found. When I was around five, Grandma had told me that if I found a penny it meant that somebody in heaven was thinking of me and wishing me well. So we kept a jar of found coins in the kitchen cupboard, ready for any challenging occasion. It would seem strange, indeed, to take this test without a penny in my loafer. Especially since I’d been sick and had no chance to study or review. It had been fifteen years since I’d taken this exam, and I’d heard there had been major changes. I’d have to rely on dumb luck and plain old faith that I could do it.

A few miles before the Wilshire Boulevard exit, I pulled off the freeway and searched for a service station.

Last chance, I thought. I hurried inside, used the restroom and then scampered back toward the entry.

Wait, I thought. I better get some juice.

“Drink liquids frequently,” my doctor had said. “You don’t want to become dehydrated.”

I hurried back to the refrigerated drinks section. As I reached inside for a small container of orange juice, a chill enveloped me, head to toe. Unlike the chills that had accompanied my fever, this one didn’t make me shiver, even though I could see my forearms were covered with goosebumps. I felt suddenly elated, as if I could levitate and simply float back out to my car.

Oh, good Lord, now I’m delusional, I decided, shrugging. Then somebody tapped my shoulder. I’d heard nobody approach, but surprisingly I wasn’t startled. I turned slowly.

“Miss?” A young man dressed in white slacks and a medieval-looking gold-embroidered tunic stood beside me. Though he looked as if he were headed to a joust at the Renaissance Faire, he didn’t seem threatening or combative. Instead, he wore an expression of kind concern.

He gazed into my eyes for a moment, and then glanced toward my feet. “Look down there,” he whispered. “I think you’ll find something you’ll need.”

Before I could reply, he swung around and headed out the door.

I looked at the floor and spied a single copper penny. I picked it up, shoved it in my right loafer, plunked down some money for my juice and headed back to the parking lot. I wanted to thank the oddly-dressed young man. My benefactor was, to my dismay, nowhere to be found.

Somehow I managed to get through the examination without any need for a sudden run to the bathroom.

That night, when Bob came home, he grabbed me and gave me a big hug.

“I’m so sorry,” he murmured. “I forgot to give you your penny this morning before I left for work. And you feeling so miserable too.”

“I feel better,” I replied. My fever actually had broken by the time I’d arrived home, I explained, and then I launched into an account of the day’s events.

“Dressed like a medieval jouster?” Bob’s eyes crinkled at the corners.

“Well, it’s the seventies and people wear anything they want these days,” I said. “A few months ago you escorted me to a party in your Nehru jacket and love beads.” I giggled, remembering how dashing he’d looked as I removed my shoe.

“Look, here’s my lucky penny.” I handed it over to Bob, who peered at it for a moment.

“Do you know what this is?” He raised an eyebrow, studying the coin more closely.

“Sure, a penny.”

“Not just any penny,” he replied. “It’s a 1925 wheat penny. What’s more, it looks in near perfect condition. It’s worth quite a lot… maybe enough to buy your books if you get admitted.”

Talk about double luck! Sure enough, when I got my test results, I’d passed the GRE with high scores, and I got admitted to UCLA, a dream of mine since girlhood. Bob and I did sell the penny for enough to cover the cost of my first term’s books. At long last, I began taking the courses that lead to an MSW, and my subsequent career as a psychiatric social worker and health specialist.

In June 2006 the UCLA Alumni Association honored me with its Community Service Award, for my work with the Peace Corps and other volunteer programs. In my acceptance speech at the ceremony that sunny Sunday afternoon in Westwood, I didn’t mention a single word about that penny or how I became convinced that the young man at the service station that day must have been divinely directed.

I thought I knew better. This sophisticated and savvy university audience wouldn’t hold with superstition.

I’m not particularly superstitious myself, and I do understand about post hoc fallacies. Because a rooster always crows before sunrise doesn’t mean that his crowing causes day to break. So because I’d stuffed a found penny in my shoe, doesn’t really mean that’s why I passed the GRE, sick as I was. Or does it?

Now I wonder if perhaps I should have told my story. There’s always the chance that if I’d told it as it really happened, just as I have here, that somebody else might come to believe, as I still do, that I’d been given a penny from heaven.

And that the “somebody” who’d been thinking about me in heaven that day surely had been an angel.

~Terri Elders

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