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Pennies in the Cracks

July 8, 2013

“Slipped through the cracks” is a strange turn of phrase. It evokes the imagery of a small, thin object, like an errant coin that dropped from a clumsy hand. Or perhaps something more valuable, like a wedding ring that was pulled loose with the too-quick tugging off of a glove… Something you didn’t know you would miss until it was already gone, something whose existence you accepted but were only barely conscious of until you witnessed its fall. Maybe it was comedic; you moved in slow-motion, hand outstretched, eyes wide and lips forming the beginnings of a curse. Maybe it was terrifying, the consequences of a shattered marriage and the torrent of arguments forthcoming already convalescing in your imagination.

More than likely, however, it was something you cared nothing for, and you didn’t make a single move to stop it. Perhaps you could have grabbed the penny before it disappeared forever out of view between the gaps of your couch cushions after tumbling off your buffalo sauce-stained undershirt, but then you’d have had to pause the football game, and the remote was just too far out of reach, wasn’t it? It was just a penny, anyway.

I wonder how the penny felt?

It wasn’t angry. How could it be? It didn’t even know it was falling, much less slipping away for the rest of time. It had been caught before, lost, then found. It had changed hands and served its purpose. It had found a home, as it always had, but now, instead of that penny fulfilling its true potential — the start of a savings account, the down payment on a car, or even filling up a beggar’s cup and giving him a second shot at life — that pathetic bronzed gimmick had expired. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared. The coin, a barely functional unit of currency, was gone, his new and only companions some lint and others like him.

I can only imagine how many pennies are lost every year.

Our outlook on life forces us to treat each other like commodity. Business owners view their employees as loose change — a nickel here, a dime there — little bits and pieces of a whole dollar that barely serve a purpose; an irritating thing that, when bunched together, jingles and makes your pants too heavy until you can make it to Starbucks to buy a latte and be rid of some of them.

Teachers, too, only see the bigger (and louder) coins. The quarters, they might amount to something someday. The dimes, with some help. The nickels will be shuffled off to whatever coin slot they’re needed most in, but the pennies… Though they shine when new, their sheen mesmerizing, even, they attract dirt and grime so easily, so quickly. Their gilded luster hardly lasts. And what worth do they have, truly? Surely they cannot stack up to even the nickel? The hardworking, reliable, sturdy but low-worth nickel?

Reader, to you I would say that pennies are the most important of all. Without the penny, imagine the agonizing mundanity of pulling out a handful of change, only to see that every coin is the same lackluster shade of silver grey. Imagine the irritation and eyeache! Never again would you know the joy of counting out precise, exact change! Imagine never again finding a lucky penny on the sidewalk, doomed forever to walk this coil treading the fine line of lucky-unlucky purgatory. Never again would we see coin collectors toiling year after year to find those last few, exceedingly rare specimens of untarnished D and P. Never again would we replace the penny with other exotic varieties on occasion, forever unknowing the pleasure and excitement of discovering the yen, the wuan, the Canadian, the euro.

Dear reader, never underestimate the penny.
For I am a penny, and I am lost.

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