Excerpt from On the Threshold
Annie, my neighbor one block over, bends down to the curved rut running the length of the alley and scrapes a penny out of the sand. She brushes its scratched surface against her blue-jeans, then presses it into my palm. “You’re the lucky one today,” she says.
I slip the rough penny into my pants’ pocket, laughing at our odd ritual. It’s not strange that Annie bothers to pick up a penny; she is Buddhist and a poet, a woman who treasures details and is as frugal with resources as she is with words. Even one cent, tarnished and of little value, gains significance by our attention. What is strange is that, week after week on our eight-minute walk to the café, the pennies appear with regularity, sometimes even nickels or quarters, and over the years we’ve placed in one another’s hands enough to buy a muffin or cookie. Our friendship follows this trail of meager fortune.
At the café, we take out our notebooks and write. Thoughts still cost a penny apiece, apparently; with inflation, they’re worth less today than ever before. And it shows. Our society invests in action instead, and the choices Annie and I make (to observe, to write, to practice our respective contemplative paths) receive little compensation. Still, the world is planted in pennies, as Annie Dillard writes. Treasure is out there for the taking. I collect mine as copper weight in my pocket—the slow unscrolling of words, an afternoon of liberty with a friend. –Elizabeth J. Andrew