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.