Sometimes a penny presents a quandary.  As a rule, pennies in a fountain no matter how enticing they might be are off-limits.  They’re someone’s wish penny and I don’t want to interfere with destiny.  Pennies under a Salvation Army kettle are a good deed misplaced and the responsibility of the bell ringer.  A penny in front of a homeless man is a hard find.

Tonight out walking downtown I spotted two pennies in front of a gentleman selling, “The Voice” Denver’s newspaper that creates job opportunities for the impoverished.  I’d purchased a paper earlier in the day so I said no thank you to his offer.  As I glanced down, I noticed the pennies within his reach and wondered what to do?  Should I offer them to him and risk making him feel foolish, walk away, or could I take them? I looked at him, he looked at me, and sensing he had no interest in them I went for it.  He didn’t comment when I put them in my pocket but I felt awkward.  I don’t need the pennies and I didn’t understand why he was ambivalent about them. What had great value to me seemed to be of no concern to him?   

That’s the way it goes with change.  It’s a matter of perspective. We always think another person needs it more than we do.  I assumed his need was greater but he was the wiser.  One look at me and the guy must have thought that lady needs to save all her pennies to afford her fancy coat and boots.  He needed a couple dollars and I need more sense.      

How can I possibly understand his life?  I have no context to draw any parallels to my own.  I waste more on Starbucks in a day than he earns, yet pennies have become important to me.  It was appropriate to feel strange about taking them.   My worry for the night wasn’t how I could stay warm and earn a few bucks.  Instead, I was out stretching my legs after a great day. Where his day was one of feeling lonely and trapped by poverty mine was filled with hope. 

Who needed the pennies more me or him?  I did for the perspective change they brought.  To see a man so cold and hungry he can’t reach out for something that could help him breaks my heart and it should.  Would I have stopped and paused long enough to think about this man if I hadn’t seen those pennies?  No, I would have just walked by.    

I’m thankful that God’s mercies are new every day.  My prayers for this man are days filled with that mercy and an outpouring of generosity, from all who walk by, to meet him in his need.  For myself, I’m asking for more uncomfortable moments because without these penny lessons I don’t change.

4 Comments
  1. I love this.
    On the same day you were finding the pennies in front of this man, I was purchasing a new winter coat with fur on the hood. (30% off)
    I was thinking about boots for next year too, something to match the coat?
    I am not going to be able to change my priorities completely, but maybe I don’t need as much as I think I do.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  2. This entry is a work of art! It changed my Sunday morning. It described the thought and heart patterns I have experienced; it is a very intimate passage. Thank you. I want this entry to be read by many people – especially people who may need a reminder that the change is an inside job.

  3. When we’re out in the city we buy Real Change from the first person we see selling it. If we come across other people selling the paper we show them the one we have but often give them a donation. We usually stop and chat with the seller.

    The people selling Real Change go through a training program that’s quite comprehensive and uplifting. In Seattle the seller buys the paper for 35 cents and sells it for a dollar.

    When I ran away from military school I made my way to Harrisburg,PA, I had no money. I’d walk the streets peeking in the windows of restaurants looking for tables that hadn’t been cleared. I’d go in, sit at a “dirty table,” and, before the table could be cleaned up I eat scraps of food off the “dirty” plate. The waitress would come, start to clear the table and before she returned with the menu I was out the door.

    I decided to ask people for money. I’m sure it didn’t hurt I was in uniform,it was freezing cold and that I was a kid.Few people gave me money. An old lady was waiting for a bus. I asked her for money. She opened her black purse, dug down in to yet another purse, got out an even smaller purse and went in to it for an even smaller purse. She extracted a quarter and handed it to me. It was the most money I’d received from one person. Of course back in 1952 a quarter was real money. I could buy two little bite sized Toddle House hamburgers and a large Baby Ruth candy bar.

    After three days of living on the street and sleeping in the bus station I gave up and returned to Carson Long Military School. My dorm master, Lt. Lepere, gave me ten very hard swats with his wooden paddle and put me on latrine duty for a month.

    If you live in a community that has people living on the street it helps them and you to get to know them. After all, they’re your neighbors. Learn about them and let them learn about you.

    It’s hard to ask for money on the street. It isn’t any of my business to wonder how the money I give will be used. It’s always good to be as kind and helpful as you can be especially with those who aren’t as blessed as the fortunate.

  4. a day of shopping ?$

    treasure at a homeless man’s feet 2¢

    the Lord’s enlightenment to the homeless’s plight priceless

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