I have a new penny friend whose name is Eric and boy is he a cutie! With curly hair, big brown eyes, and a smile from ear to ear he’s hard to resist. He loves animals, has a fantastic imagination, and makes things – cool things just like my son Chase. In fact, in more ways than one he reminds me of Chase. Beyond all their similar interests Eric and Chase are not just both artistic but autistic as well. In my book, that makes Eric a kid I already like so when you add penny finding to the equation I’m completely smitten.
Eric started collecting pennies in order to help raise $5,000 for an organization called All-Star Paws for Autism which trains service dogs for autistics. Knowing from experience how therapeutic a dog can be I’m enthusiastic about his efforts. Five thousand dollars may seem like a lot but I know with Chase getting a dog got him talking which is more than years of speech therapy accomplished.
Eric and I haven’t met yet in person but I think when we finally do he’s probably going to think I’m a little strange. I’ll want to hug him and he might not like that. I’ll also have a lot of questions for him and while he’ll do his best to answer I’m guessing he’ll quickly change the topic to something he’s interested in. I’m sure he’s an expert on something I don’t know much about so I need to remember to allow time for him to tell me all about his passions.
One thing I might know a little more about than Eric is penny finding but because I can’t ever get enough of a good penny story I wrote to him and asked him about his experience so far. I tried to keep it simple because I didn’t want my flair for the dramatic to trip him up. Kids like Eric tend to be very matter of fact so my style can be overwhelming. As expected, his answers cracked me up with their simplicity. You can see he’s a very concrete thinker whereas I’m always looking for the back story – the subplot behind an experience.
My first question was when he started penny finding and how many pennies had he found so far? His response, “I started about a month ago. I have collected $17 in coins. Not all are pennies but many are?” Yes of course that’s the case I thought. People drop all sorts of change. I went on to ask where his most interesting penny find was and where I was hoping for a little more detail Eric left me wondering with his response. “At school I found a quarter in the PE Court.” Okay what is the PE Court? I’m pretty sure that’s the physical education court but does court mean one for tennis, racket ball, basketball, or shuffle ball? He lives in Florida so maybe they start learning shuffle ball early to prepare for retirement?
Next question, “Have you ever gotten dirty trying to get a penny?” This one was prompted by many of my experiences with penny finding where I’ve had to risk messing up my clothes, shoes and pride to get a penny. I was curious about this kind of predicament for Eric because kids like him typically won’t risk getting dirty even for something they really want. Surely here Eric would have more to say? His answer, “I did get my hands dirty.” That was it. Again, I want to know all the slimy details but my new penny friend is obviously as straightforward as the question.
Next probing question, “Where do you think it’s easy to find pennies?” With this one Eric showed me how cleaver he is because I wouldn’t have thought of this. However, I don’t look for pennies like Eric so I’ll cut myself some slack. If I do ever need to look for them I’m going to start where Eric has had success which is under the furniture in his house. I bet there’s a lot of pennies under the furniture in my house too – maybe even pennies I’ve found around town that haven’t been put in the penny bowl yet.
When I asked Eric why he thought people don’t stop and pick-up the pennies they drop, his answer was equally as cute. “Because they are not trying to collect money for a dog like I am?” Eric, pardon the pun, hit it right on the money with this one. After five years of observing people’s ambivalence about change, literally and metaphorically, I know that the bottom line is motivation. If you aren’t inspired you will pass by every opportunity that presents itself. Most people have acquiesced to the mindset that change in their lives has to come in one big fell swoop like a Nike swoosh. We’re addicted to looking for the next big thing instead of having the patience to reach our goals one baby step at a time. Eric, however, is already demonstrating the patience life requires because when asked what his penny goal was he answered, “1,000”. That’s a lot of pennies to find.
I hope this patience will sustain him in other areas of his life as well because Eric’s reason for wanting a dog speaks volumes about what a kiddo like him has to deal with – which is lots of folks who know very little about how he’s wired, what makes him tick, and what life looks like from his unique perspective. When asked why he wanted a dog Eric said, “Maybe if people like my dog they will like me too.”
With that my penny friend Eric pretty much summed up how skewed, in the wrong direction, people can be. Change is always for somebody else not them and when you’re a kid like Eric you can’t “change” how you experience the world. You might be able to change how you respond to it, but even that is often not enough in a culture that loves sameness. We like people who are like us.
This I suspect is what Eric, even though he’s not a super touchy feely kid, has figured out and a dog is how he sees himself fitting in. Like every other person on the planet he’s looking for love and acceptance and he believes something other than his wonderful personality is necessary. He wants a friend who will love him unconditionally and help bridge the gap between him and those who can’t connect with him any other way. It’s actually a brilliant little strategy but still one that breaks my heart.
I’m sure it breaks yours too and so with this story I’m not asking for your pennies for Eric but I do hope the next time you find one you’ll think about him. Perhaps his smiling face will remind you of somebody God may have put in your life that needs a little help connecting with the world around them. Maybe you could be a bridge builder for them, just like Eric’s dog will be for him? Someone who loves them unconditionally and helps them navigate the demanding world we live in.