It shone in the late morning heat, a polished copper beacon on the payment. Impossibly new, the visage of Abraham Lincoln gathered the summer sun’s brilliance and hurled it upward, demanding notice. As I approached, swirls of auburn burnishment danced in defiance of the oppresive humidity.
Find a penny, pick it up. All the day you’ll have good luck.
I used to pick up pennies reasoning that I needed all the luck I could get. And as I rushed across the parking lot this particular talisman seemed to be the personification of good fortune. I slowed my stride and thought of reaching down for it.
I had seen coins waiting on the pavement before. Some were of higher denominations but none could match the value of that jewel I saw now. Those other coins always remained in place, however. Perhaps they are still there. The trick was to glue a quarter or fifty-cent piece to the sidewalk and then watch people try to pick it up. The victim would try several times before he realized he had been had. Then he would walk away trying nonchalantly to pretend it wasn’t really that important. I know that’s what I did when it happened to me. I couldn’t see the pranksters but knew they were there behind a door or peering through a window. Perhaps they were long gone. It didn’t really matter. The laughter was real to me – I didn’t have to hear it to feel the pain. And since the grievance was trivial the pain was long-lived.
I hurried on to my appointment. I don’t make the same mistake twice.
Find a penny, pick it up.
Returning from my meeting I took the stairs as usual for my third floor office. As I opened the door to the stairwell a glint of copper caught my eye. I had forgotten the penny in the parking lot but it had remembered me. It must have been the same coin. It was hard to believe that brilliant token jammed against the dusty baseboard wasn’t the same one that had appealed to me earlier in the parking lot. I suppose someone could have picked it up outside and then dropped it here. I don’t know. All I know is that I had a second chance. President Lincoln, as he had often done before, had gone out of his way to give me an opportunity to rectify an earlier error.
How often in our lives are we given second chances? For every mistake and failure in our past we are given new chances for more mistakes and failures. But we are almost never given another chance to start over and undo the past. Again I almost picked it up, but passed it by. I don’t know why. Surely I didn’t think this one was glued down too. If it was, someone was really going out of their way to get me. No, the truth was that since I didn’t pick it up earlier to do so now would be to change my mind. Perhaps to admit that I was wrong the first time. No. I can’t spend my life second guessing myself. I passed it by.
Find a penny.
Old Abe returned that afternoon. I was helping empty an old office moving books and shelves for several hours. As I swept through the empty office brushing aside trash and paper to see if we had left anything behind Honest Abe flashed at me one last time. He wasn’t nearly as bright under the office lighting and was much easier to ignore.
Thus our lives pass by and in the name of propriety we ignore second chances. Everyone knows, of course, that there are never third chances.