Walking two days ago through the blacktop parking lot on my way to the West Waco Public Library I spotted a penny on the ground and hovered over it, uncharacteristically debating my response. I imagined faint whispers of my wife’s voice reciting her common response to such an innocuous find, “Positive cash flow.” Ordinarily I retrieve coins of any denomination, harkening back to childhood discoveries. Fifty years ago It would have thrilled me to find a penny on the ground, and I would have rejoiced all the way to my piggy bank, although it wasn’t a piggy bank at all, but a small black box with a slot on top to hold a coin. As soon as you inserted the coin, a glow-in-the-dark hand magically emerged to grab the coin and jerk it inside (my father’s preferred alternative to traditional children’s banks). Finding unexpected cash is always pleasant, although in my case, monetary discoveries normally consist of currency found hiding in pockets that I absent-mindedly abandoned some time before, hence negating the idea of positive cash flow; chalk my “finds” up to recirculation. However, for reasons I can’t explain or defend, I chose not to pick up this particular penny and take it to the bank.
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon, navigating Champion Forest Drive in the Champions region of Houston just after a toad-floater downpour. As I slowed to a stop near the intersection of Champion Forest and Farm to Market 1960, I spotted a middle-aged man port side holding a small cardboard sign that read: “Pennys Help” (misspelling his, not mine). We rarely see such sign-bearers at intersections in Waco, but when I do, I typically lower my window and make a token offering if I have cash on hand, (which, quite honestly, I seldom do). More frequently, I offer to take the individual to buy something to eat, and the panhandlers take me up on the offer about thirty three and a third percent of the time. On this occasion in rush hour traffic, on an already jam packed artery, I did neither. I did not lower my window, nor did I offer assistance of any kind. I merely read the handwritten sign as I passed: “Pennys Help.”
Arriving at my destination shortly thereafter, I had about twenty minutes until my next appointment, long enough to consider the juxtaposition of the two unrelated, yet oddly similar experiences. In both cases, something of value stood (I’m uncertain as to how to describe the penny’s posture) within reach, but I chose to ponder and then pass by. The value of either was deemed too small to warrant my involvement. I can’t help but wonder how many other people and experiences I dismiss and thus elude my touch. Lord, please remind me next time that ‘Pennys Help.’
“Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matthew 25:45, KJV)