Pennies From Heaven

Roadside Musings

Pennies From Heaven

Getty Images/Philip Steury

“I have come to welcome those found pennies and to use the act of picking them up as a reminder to stop for a moment and think about my dad.”

I pick up pennies I find lying on the ground. I do the same for nickels, dimes, and (Halleluyah!) quarters. I started doing this a few years ago after my father died. My mom started it. She said (and I think actually believes) that my dad places the coins on the ground where she can see them as a sign that he is with her. She picks them up and feels loved.

I don’t believe my dad is dropping pennies from heaven. I don’t believe in heaven. And I would vote to have the government stop minting pennies altogether. But I do believe my mom believes this, so when I pick up a penny, I do it in honor of her. Then I email her to tell her that dad dropped a coin to let me know he was around. She finds this comforting. Or she thinks it’s silly but imagines I find it comforting and humors me the way I think I’m humoring her. So maybe the whole thing is mad. Maybe.

I admit that stooping down to pick up a penny embarrasses me. Every time I do it, I’m reminded of the anti-Semitic and wildly popular “Lucky Jew” statues [Ref. 1] I saw throughout Poland when I visited the country on a book tour. [Ref 2]

The “Lucky Jew” is a two­–inch ceramic statue of a Hasidic Jewish man wearing a long black caftan and large fur shtreimel gripping a small coin with both hands. Owning and displaying the “Lucky Jew” was thought to bring one financial good luck. So ubiquitous are the “Lucky Jews” and so tiny a minority are the unlucky Polish Jews [Ref 3] that no one I spoke to about the statue had a clue that the statue might be anti-Semitic. They just assumed that since Jews were good with money this charm would help them gain financial security.

Embarrassment and anti-Semitic tropes aside, however, I have come to welcome those found pennies and to use the act of picking them up as a reminder to stop for a moment and think about my dad. These aren’t the only moments when I think of him, but these are moments when I think of him and how much he loved my mom and how hard he worked to make sure we never lacked for pennies.

I’m sharing this with you because as I walked home from the gym this morning, I noticed a penny on the road. I stopped, stooped down, and scooped it up. When I stood up, I noticed a twenty-something guy looking at me. His face seemed to register disgust: either disgust over my picking up a penny off the filthy asphalt or disgust that over a decade of daily workouts I still look like I never walked into a gym in my life. I assumed it was the former and said to him as I held the penny aloft, “My dad dropped this!” I think I saw his face shift from disgust to compassion for a delusional old man groping for pennies.

Either way, I felt my dad’s presence, and walked home to email my mom.

[Ref. 1] Żyd z pieniążkiem (“Jew with a coin”)

[Ref. 2] My book Rabbi Rami Guide to God was translated into Polish.

[Ref. 3] Three million Polish Jews, 90% of the Polish Jewish population, died during the Holocaust.

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