I found a penny laying face up in the middle of the Target parking lot and I noticed his birth year sitting next to Lincoln’s head. 1987. It was not until I reached the front of the line at Starbucks did I realize the penny was still in the palm of my hand.
“Did you want to pay with that also?” The barista asked, gesturing towards the penny.
“Oh, this?” I looked down. 1987. “No. No, I am all set. Thank you.”
The penny had traveled with me that entire morning. Through the aisles of Trader Joe’s. Into my Credit Union. All the way to Starbucks. Never once did I set it down but never once did I realize I was still holding it. As if I had saved it from the hot concrete and shopping carts that rolled to kill. All because of 1987, the birth year of a boy who I want to make better.
How many of us today are walking around with pockets full of heartache, lucky pennies in our palms and the sorrow of someone else piled on our shoulders? Our prayers at night feel swollen like bee stings. We take up superstitions as a last resort; As if the universe will shift when the clock turns 11:11 or we wish upon that star. Optimism sits sweltering in our lungs and we deliver a scripted set of upbeat words to others even though we sometimes think our rhetoric is better suited for the front of a coffee mug or in a sympathy rack of cards at Hallmark. Coming anywhere but from the mouth of a person who is going home tonight to buckling knees and tears that are waiting in the wings to make their appearance.
Every single day a Tragedy arrives to someone in this world. Every Single Hour. Every Minute. Every Second. And Tragedy, though to some of us she is a quiet woman and to others he is a gaunt and tired man, always shows up with the intention of knocking us down. Intentions to Suck Us Dry of Faith, Tears and Lights that Belong at the Ends of Our Tunnels. Tragedy hands us a frame that envelopes its own family portrait saying, “These are the members of my family that you will meet soon enough.” There is Nights Spent Crying Yourself to Sleep on the left, Songs That Serve as a Sad Reminder in the middle and Unanswered Questions is the little one in the front.
Yes, Tragedy has the potential to sweep us up, encompass us and make us believe that this world is one that uses sorrow and sadness as the fuel to keep it spinning. But if we never experienced tragedy we would never know the meaning of strength. We would never understand how it feels to stand atop of a mess instead of within it, how to thank those who have supported us through an incredibly dark time. Without tragedy we would be at a loss for two declarations when we look up into the night sky:
One) The morning always follows.
Two) The stars come out to light our way like beacons of hope in a world that sometimes convinces us that we are all alone.
At one point or another we all carry some kind of tragedy that we believe is not fit for the ears and eyes of others. We all reach a point where we want to curse the existence of language and words because none can add up to a justifiable sentence that can sum up the pain we feel for another. Tragedies will always exist that make us question a higher power who can allow Addictions, Death, Disease and Abuse to roam this earth.
Trust me, I wish tragedy were a concept that shimmered and sparkled and made us all feel warm and fuzzy, but it never can be so. And this jumbled jagged mess reveals a truth like the pearl that sits and waits in the oyster: That sometimes things are not “as simple as that.” Sometimes cracked hearts, ruined spirits, hungry souls and lost causes aren’t fit to be tied up with a pretty white bow.
But regardless, they exist. And for that reason alone we need to cope. To be strong. To look for light. To be light. I cannot be everything all the time, but in this very moment I can be a Lantern. In hopes that someone might see my light and hitch their hope to me like a wagon, and I will help them find a way home. Perhaps someone will, perhaps someone won’t. But I figure that if I gain the strength to be a lantern, then someone else might find my light and a way to soothe my tragedies as well. And We Will Keep The World Spinning On Something Other Than Sadness And Sorrow.
Until that day I will carry in my palms a thousand prayers and a single penny for a broken boy whose birth year is 1987. And inside of myself I will carry a reason to believe in both.